Belfast Telegraph

Let's all move forward by cutting back on Stormont

A streamlined eight-department Executive would make much more sense than the current unwieldy 11, says Trevor Lunn

There has been much discussion about cutbacks relating to public services in recent times and I believe we need to examine how decisions about frontline services are taken.

They are often taken by government departments in isolation, without regard for wider strategic planning. The Executive must urgently implement a comprehensive review of all government departments with a view to reducing the number to eight.

I imagine no one would dispute the need for there to be a reduction in the number of departments to help deliver greater effectiveness.

There are real opportunities for us in cutting the number of departments. The DUP and Sinn Fein, however, appear to be making a political decision in culling the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), which could undermine, rather than promote, better government.

They are looking at DEL alone, when they should be examining all departments. Dispensing with DEL now and examining others later at best misses the point and at worst damages our ability to deliver as a government.

We are over-governed in Northern Ireland and the demarcations of departmental powers are often a block on progress, or on delivery.

We need proactive, positive government that is structured in a way which engenders delivery and minimises the need for more than one department to handle a project.

The debate so far has been solely centred on the dissolution of the Department for Employment and Learning.

I don't want departmental reform to be a missed opportunity - I want it to deliver better government and I want to see it help us grow our economy. I want to reframe the debate to look at the potential for change right across all departments.

There are a number of departments which could be amalgamated. DEL is a good example, where all functions should be kept together and transferred to a new Department of the Economy, which would also take in relevant powers from other departments, such as Agriculture.

Is there also a case for a department, or agency, to take control of all matters relating to our children? Even under our suggested framework, five of the departments would still have to co-operate to provide the services needed.

We need constructive engagement between all parties to make progress on agreeing reforms to help streamline our government, instead of just culling one department in a damaging quick-fix fashion, which is more to do with politics that sound business sense.

Alliance has ambitious plans to lead the way in changing government. In delivering the best value for money we need to shape our departments to enable early multi-agency intervention.

People should not be failed by a lack of cohesion in government.

The eight departments we propose are:

• Office of First and deputy First Minister;

• Economy (incorporating DETI, DEL and some aspects of DARD);

• Finance and Personnel (with civil law passing to Justice);

• Justice (receiving civil law from DFP and public safety from DHSSPS);

• Health and Social Services;

• Education (incorporating much of DCAL);

• Environment and Rural Development (incorporating the current department, Planning from DARD, much of the rest of DARD and waterways from DCAL);

• Urban and Social Development (with transport from DARD)

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