Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Civil servants show wisdom in spending

Editor's Viewpoint

The injection of two substantial sums of money into health and education budgets in Northern Ireland is a welcome and common sense move. Both sectors are in dire need of a monetary boost and the funds released have been well directed.

In education, 25 schools will share £60m for use in capital projects. It is shameful that some of the school estate is of poor quality, with pupils being taught in accommodation not fit for purpose.

This money, which will be spread right across the province and schools sectors, will enable work to begin on necessary projects which will transform the educational experience of thousands of pupils.

But it is the £100m earmarked for a wide range of initiatives in health care and services which may well have the biggest impact on all our lives. One tranche of the money, amounting to £15m, will go to primary care, essentially GP services. But some of it will be for the creation of multi-disciplinary teams working in GP practices and providing social services, physiotherapy and mental health services.

The ambition is that it will enable primary care to be more proactive in preventing more and more patients going to hard-pressed hospitals and enable those patients to receive services closer to home.

Other initiatives are aimed at cutting patient waiting times and improving services for children in care.

Essentially, the money will begin a transformation and streamlining of service, an aspiration put forward in the Bengoa report which is still gathering dust at Stormont in the absence of devolved government.

The decisions announced yesterday were made by senior civil servants, who obviously had considered what would be the best use of the available funds. There was little fanfare accompanying the announcements, but that should not detract from their value.

While it can be argued that civil servants can take a more objective view on how money is spent than politicians whose constituency is always a vested interest, this is not the way to run Northern Ireland.

While both the DUP and Sinn Fein regularly state their desire to restore devolution, there is little sign that they can overcome their mutual loathing to reach agreement. And the Tory government would be willing to countenance nearly anything rather than introduce direct rule. Unaccountable civil servants may continue to rule over us for some time.

Belfast Telegraph

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