Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Cost savings must start at Stormont

Executive Ministers spent part of yesterday at an "away day" poring over the economic crisis facing the province.

By all accounts the figures were chastening and there is no doubt that a period of austerity is looming. Let us hope that the politicians also had a copy of the report from Comptroller and Auditor General - the government's economic watchdog - on their desks. For it shows a catalogue of wasted funding, inefficiency, lack of oversight and poor service by government departments and bodies.

At a time when every pound counts and when there is a real threat to employment within the public sector - some 1,600 jobs are under threat in the health service here - it is not just vital, but imperative, that efficiency and effectiveness become the bywords of government performance. It cannot be claimed that the waste uncovered by the Comptroller and Auditor General would save those jobs under threat, but it could mitigate the numbers.

By its very nature big government is inherently wasteful. It is impossible to stamp out completely, but the report shows that there has been a lax attitude to overseeing public expenditure in some areas or in determining the most cost-effective methods of doing things. With the public purse strings about to be drawn very tight, government departments and bodies will have to adopt the approach of the private sector and ask questions such as: is this expenditure necessary; are we approaching the task in the right manner; are we getting value for money?

On that point, many will be astounded to discover that the public inquiry into the murder of loyalist terrorist, Billy Wright, in the Maze Prison in 1997 by republicans has cost almost £30m to date. While his family have a right to know how security was breached to allow the murder to take place, this seems an incredible sum of money to spend on a relatively straightforward inquiry. It is unlikely that any further such inquiries can be funded in a climate where vital day-to-day services in a wide range of areas are under threat.

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