“I’m very happy to take your questions.”

Following his speech at the MacGill Summer School on Sunday, where he focussed primarily – and, according to SF leader Gerry Adams, patronisingly – on the issue of policing and Sinn Féin, Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland Peter Hain, has given another speech. This time, in true campaigning style, he was speaking to the gathered NI press corps at Stormont – full speech here[pdf file]... and there are plenty of areas for further questions to be asked. More The BBC pick up on one of those areas. And from the Belfast Telegraph

“Every department is being examined. There are no sacred cows. Nothing is ruled out.”

Finally Just in case you missed it, Peter Hain has issued a second statement based on the same speechFor a Secretary of State apparently pre-occupied by the level of public spending, and its distortion of the local economy, he seems inordinately proud of the increasing levels of public spending since 1997..

As noted in Peter Hain’s statement

By 2008, total government spending here will exceed a record £16 billion, a jump of more than 50 per cent since 1997. Of this, health spending alone will top £3.8 billion by 2008 – up from around £1.7 billion in 1997 to now account for over 40 per cent of our entire Northern Ireland budget. And since 1997, education funding has increased by more than 60 per cent, at a time when pupil numbers have been falling, and will reach £1.7 billion by 2008. This investment, alongside the hard work and dedication of our public sector workers, is helping to boost education results and bring down hospital waiting lists.”[added emphasis]

And despite repeating his concern over the number of schools, from his actual speech[pdf]..

The fact remains however, that we still have too many schools, with resources spread too thinly, to the detriment of teachers and children. The Bain Review, which I announced earlier this year, will examine funding in the context of falling pupil numbers and the introduction of this revised curriculum and, I hope, bring forward radical proposals that will both raise standards and help towards our goal of a Shared Future.[added emphasis]

..he has also highlighted a £380million school building programme which will see an additional 48 new schools built..

We have overseen a similar significant increase in spending on education. Since 1997, education funding has increased
by more than 60%, at a time when pupil numbers have been falling, and will reach £1.7 billion by 2008. And I’ve recently announced a £380million school building programme which will see 48 new schools built.[added emphasis]

One gem in particular is worth noting from his conclusions..

The Assembly has shown already in recent weeks that it has the capacity to bring forward thinking and new ideas to
the table.

Anyone notice that?.. Anyone?

On a more serious point, as noted in the PA report, is the Secretary of State’s apparent willingness to restructure the 11 Departments, with accompanying ministerial posts in an Executive..

In a speech reviewing the work his ministerial team has done on what would normally be devolved issues, the minister said that if it was right to ask local government to slash the number of councils in the region from 26 to seven, then it was also right to focus on the future shape of central government and whether 11 departments were needed to deliver public services in Northern Ireland.

“Following implementation of the review of public administration, a number of departments will simply be unsustainable in their current form,” he said.

The possibility of a re-configuring of the Executive, with an accompanying recalculation of the distribution of ministerial seats, may cause some, more, furrowed brows among the UUP..