Critiquing the Review of Public Administration, David Liddlington, the Conservative’s Northern Ireland spokesman edged a little closer to the DUP’s position, when he questioned the separate working of the Human Rights and Equality Commissions and suggested there needed to be a formal oversight of efficiency in government in Northern Ireland. It’s a deft and largely uncontroversial (in Westminster terms at least) departure from the Westminster opposition:
Yes, there are protocols that are supposed to delineate the responsibilities of the two commissions but there is no avoiding the fact that every time we politicians create, usually with the most benevolent of intentions, a new department or agency or commission, we oblige businesses, charities and individuals to get to grips with yet another hierarchy of officials, another set of targets and inspection standards, another batch of forms to fill in and boxes to tick, and another set of rules to bid for money.
The PA report notes that “overall administrative costs for the Northern Ireland departments and the Assembly, which stood at £760.5 million in 2001/02, had risen to £893 million by 2004/5”.
In the light of this kind of evidence, I believe that there is a compelling case for a more thoroughgoing review of departments and agencies that goes beyond the Gershon plan. It could be a formal Efficiency Commission, as Ian Paisley has proposed, or more bespoke arrangements, department by department. Either way, I would hope that money saved from such additional efficiency gains would either be ploughed back into frontline services or else used to reduce the need for higher local taxes within Northern Ireland.