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New think tank calls for culture shift at Stormont to boost delivery of public services

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Director of Pivotal, Ann Watt

Director of Pivotal, Ann Watt

Director of Pivotal, Ann Watt

The director of a new think tank has said the recently restored Stormont Assembly will not work without a change in culture.

Publishing its latest report - Good Government in Northern Ireland - Pivotal says Stormont must be more open and co-operative to have a chance of fixing public services such as health and education.

It comes almost two months after the DUP and Sinn Fein re-entered power-sharing following three years of deadlock.

According to the think tank's report, politicians from different parties need to commit to working together for the long-term good of local people - representing a shift in course from what has happened in the past.

Pivotal, which says it aims to improve life here, highlighted that previous governments at Stormont "lacked a common purpose, avoided difficult choices, and did not plan properly for the long-term". The report warns that a change in culture is required to turn this around, as Stormont "has suffered from major problems including a divided Executive with departments working in silos, inadequate scrutiny from the Assembly, and too many decisions taken behind closed doors".

The result, it says, has been "serious problems with public services, doubts about the competence of some officials, and allegations of scandalous behaviour by ministers, special advisers and others".

Pivotal's new report also highlights that real change is possible.

Although it said that will require some effort, and while the New Decade, New Approach deal is a good starting point, it does not go far enough.

The report identified 10 specific features of good government, as well as ways that Stormont could work to fulfilling each of those.

They include making tough choices, long-term planning and engagement with those outside government.

Ann Watt, director of Pivotal and a former head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said: "The Executive is back, and New Decade, New Approach sets out ambitious plans to improve health and social care, invest in infrastructure, tackle climate change, and address inequalities in the education sector.

"All of this is welcome, but making sure it happens will require a change in culture at Stormont.

"Previous governments too often failed to deliver on commitments.

"That cannot continue to happen, especially given the current state of health, education, the economy and more.

"To put us on track for the future, politicians need to plan for the long-term, stop avoiding the tough choices, and have a relentless focus on improving the public services that impact directly on people's lives."

Pivotal's report says that creating a positive, future-focused government is possible, adding that a culture change can happen and the 10 features of good government can be achieved.

However, it warns that the mistakes of the past must be avoided.

Belfast Telegraph