Where to begin?..

As the BBC has reported, Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, Peter Hain has announced[pdf file] sweeping changes to the public bodies here, described in the NIO statement as “[delivering] on his promise to cut needless bureaucracy in Northern Ireland” [*ahem* – Ed]full document here[pdf file]. While Lord Rooker stepped up to make the same announcement in parliament. There are a lot of changes to note.. but I’ll stick to some highlights[pdf]From the summary document –

The following is a summary of the changes to public bodies announced by the Secretary of State:

• There will be a new Land and Property Agency which will incorporate Valuation and Lands, Rate Collection, Land Registers and Ordnance Survey Agencies.

• A Library Authority will be created with responsibility for all libraries across Northern Ireland.

• Driver and Vehicle Licensing will merge with the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency.

• The Northern Ireland Events Company will become part of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

• Some of the funding currently administered by the Arts and Sports Councils will become the responsibility of local government as will some of the functions of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Invest NI.

• The Public Records Office will transfer to central government.

• The Northern Ireland Housing Council, The Agriculture Wages Board and Enterprise Ulster will cease to exist.

But the cuts in needless bureaucracy hasn’t extended to cuts in meaningless soundbites, from the Final Decisions document

In addition to these, councils will have a new power of well-being. This will allow them to take any action, not already the responsibility of another agency, linked with the community plan, that will improve the well-being of the local community or the local area. Such a power allows great flexibility and, coupled with the additional functions transferring from other parts of the public service, will enable councils to respond creatively to local needs, ensuring accessible and citizenfocused services that make a real difference to people’s lives.

While even the announcement of 60 councillors per council, up from the previously suggested 50, is not completely finalised –

Each of these seven new councils will have approximately 60 councillors but, in exceptional circumstances, the Local Government Boundary Commissioner will have the flexibility to increase this to 65.

Interestingly the BBC report states that –

The changes announced in Belfast by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain on Tuesday are likely to save less than £20m.

While in his speech, Peter Hain rolls the November announcement together with this one to claim, as Lord Rooker also states

The changes announced in November and today will result in savings in excess of £200m per annum, and demonstrate the Government’s commitment to cutting waste and strengthening front-line services in Northern Ireland.

The November announcement, described at the time by Malachi O’Doherty as seven old Stormonts, was on reducing the number of local councils, as the BBC reminds us –

Last November, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain announced the first part of the Review of Public Administration reducing 26 district councils to seven and cutting the number of education and health boards.

I’m wondering, though, if those estimated savings take into account the to-be-expected increases in allowances for the new councillors-with-greater-responsibility.. and the increase in number of councillors from that announced in November. There’s now an expectation of a total number of around 420 councillors, down from the curent 582.. but up from the previously suggested 350.

One other point to note, regarding appointments to the remaining, or new, public bodies –

For the future, all Board members will be appointed under the guidelines laid down by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Public bodies are accountable to their sponsoring Minister and through that Minister to the Assembly or Parliament. Board members must be chosen solely on the basis of the skills and expertise necessary to do the job. All appointments are to be made on merit and no one should be appointed to any position solely because they hold a particular position in another organisation.

Let’s hope they check the references