New directions, economy focused, less departments, more criticism

In a speech at the week-end, Peter Robinson has set out his stall on Executive polices, the economy, administrative structures and the operation of the Assembly. He claims the new Programme for Government will be:

“…a radical change of direction across a whole range of policies from the direct rule administration.”

On the future of public spending and the economy he makes clear that:

“…days of large increases in public spending are not sustainable. We need an economy that creates wealth not merely one that consumes public spending.”

He believes the number of departments can be halved:

“Eleven government departments to administer the province is about twice as many as we need.”

He also criticised the present structures for:

“While I understand that it may be necessary to build confidence in the process before more radical changes can be delivered I hope that change will not be too long delayed. A four party mandatory coalition with no effective opposition is not in the best interests of decision making in Northern Ireland…the community designation system is no basis for tackling community division in the longer term”

  • Garibaldy

    5 or 6 departments. Not at all the self-interest of the biggest party.

  • Nevin

    “Robinson has set out the stall on Executive polices, the economy, administrative structures and the operation of the Assembly”

    Should that not be his stall, fd? Surely, he’s only expressing a personal preference; the collective will of the Executive has yet to be announced.

    PS I was typing this as you made the amendment!!

  • Nevin

    “The speech’s text was released over the weekend.” … Tele link

    It’s not on the DUP or Executive website – yet.

  • joeCanuck

    I think he is on the right track.
    But not only are there too many departments. There are far too many MLAs for the population size.
    Ontario gets away with 107 MLAs for a population of 10-11 million.
    There needs to be a radical change in many areas following the bedding-in phase. Say in 5 years time.

  • Nevin

    “the community designation system is no basis for tackling community division in the longer term”

    fd, can you please post Robinson’s alternative – if he has one?

  • fair_deal

    Nevin

    I don’t have the speech

  • Sean

    You would almost swear he had that much powers

    Of course then you would wake up from that nightmare

  • It says the full text of the speech was released. I can’t find it on Robinson’s website or the DUP website. How “on message” is this admittedly correct analysis?

  • Greenflag

    In any other western democracy Robinson’s view would be seen as largel correct . Unfortunately in the looking glass world of NI his suggestion will be seen as attempting to refloat the Titanic after it hit the iceberg . Relocating the deck chairs on the Titanic may have alleviated some of the stress felt by passengers but it did not save the ship .

    “the community designation system is no basis for tackling community division in the longer term”

    Presumably because the community designation system continually reenforces community division thus eventually undermining itself?

  • kensei

    Why, having failed in getting this goal – mandatory coalition in reduced size executive / assembly (thus magnifying the power of the largest party, and chances of outright majority) – in negotiations with the British government and SF, does Peter think Nationalists will agree to it now considering that they hold a mutual veto? A United Ireland would sort out all of these problems, but I don’t fancy my chances of that at the moment either.

    Especially when the DUP are set on blocking things like the ILA and Policing and Justice reforms. Where si the trust, exactly?

    I could see some reform happening, but I doubt it’d be on DUP terms.

  • Perhaps nationalists might also like a more efficient government delivering a more efficient economy?

  • URQUHART

    Chekov: “Perhaps nationalists might also like a more efficient government delivering a more efficient economy?”

    This one certainly does.

    I also hope that Minister Robinson applies his perfectly sensible approach to public spending to the UDA funding issue and gives his colleague Margaret Ritchie unequivocal support if she tells them to get lost.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Why does Peter think Nationalists will agree to it now considering that they hold a mutual veto? ‘

    Because some people never learn. What we have here and have always had here is a failure to communicate.

  • This is the problem with not having any real socialist or social-democrat alligned parties, one that is non-sectarian so that it could be a real force to counter the incluence of the DUP and their right wing policies. I know that it’s a non-starter right now, but perhaps in the future one can look forward to a political climate where non sectarian parties can win some real support and influence.

  • IJP

    Nevin

    Voluntary coalition requiring the support of a qualified majority in the Assembly (likely 70%).

  • German-American

    IJP: I can’t recall the exact substance of past discussions on alternative to the current Stormont arrangements. What exactly would require a qualified majority (70% or whatever it is)? All measures that currently require cross-community support? Presumably this would also require support of such a qualified majority for election of FM/DFM and ministers, correct? What about a motion of no-confidence in the then-current executive; would this carry on a vote of 31%?

  • kensei

    “Perhaps nationalists might also like a more efficient government delivering a more efficient economy?”

    Trite.

    Perhaps they don’t think the DUP will deliver it, will act in their best interests beyond those narrow confines and dislike having no way to get rid of them or reign them in.

    The point stands. This is basically what the DUP asked for in negotiations and didn’t get it. Why would they get it now?

  • slug

    I think the efficiency agenda is a good one.

    Alex Kane was talking in his column today about the need for unionist parties to get stuck into new issues that people (not just protestants) care about.

    This is a good such issue. Too many MLAs, too little opposition, too many departments, too much deadlock. Something that resonates.

  • Dexter

    Stormont Lite;

    What about the following proposed Departments/MLA numbers?

    1.Education, Employment and Learning
    2.Enterprise, Trade and Investment
    3.Environment and Regional (including rural) Development
    4.Finance and Personnel
    5.Health, Social Services and Public Safety (to incorporate the SSA/Social Policy aspects of Social Development portfolio)
    6.Housing
    7.Justice/Policing

    Culture, Arts and Leisure; Junior Ministry
    Agriculture; Junior Ministry

    I am all for a significant slimming of Stormont, given our size. But I really cannot see much room for further rationalisation. I think that a Housing Minister (to deal with both public housing and legislation etc surrounding private housing) requires a ministry. This is arguably THE issue in Britain at the moment and I feel that we are rapidly developing serious issues in this area.

    54-60 MLAs looks sensible, if we are retaining 18 westminster constituencies; 3 MLAs per constituency. Alternatively, on the proposed Council model; 7 Councils- 7/8 MLAs; 11 Councils- 5 MLAs; 15 Councils- 4 MLAs.

  • Turgon

    It is difficult to argue that we have anything other than too many MLAs and too many departments. The nature of the government with no cabinet but instead what is effectively a carve up of dictatorships only controlled with that most blunt of political instruments: the veto is also a huge problem.

    The number of MLAs, the presence of vetos and lack of collective responsibility along with the tendancy for politics here to be very parochial make the chance of taking contentious decisions; no matter how necessary very low.

    I am to an extent, however, inclined to agree with kensei on this; though coming from a very different angle. The DUP asked for much of this before they went into government, failed to get it, and yet went into government anyway.

    Robinson is right that with growing confidence changes could be made but I doubt if the other parties would be willing to accept changes proposed by the DUP; which no matter how beneficial to the whole of Northern Ireland; would also serve to consolidate power in the hands of the DUP.

  • Nevin

    ijp, I googled with ‘”voluntary coalition” peter robinson’ and lo and behold:

    The option of a voluntary coalition is open to the SDLP and while they are playing coy now, perhaps after the election, when their bravado is tempered by the electorate’s response, a higher level of reality might cause a re-think. If, however, Mark Durkan wants to force terrorists and criminals into government there will be no devolution. That deal is dead Mark, and you know it.

    Follow that strategy Mark, and you will deprive a whole community of devolved government. You will also be ensuring that the only achievable and attainable strategy for unionists to follow will be to improve the accountability and acceptability of Direct Rule by integrating Northern Ireland more closely and seamlessly into the Westminster structures.

    Let everyone be clear about our intentions. We will not share power with gunmen or gangsters and we will not hang around waiting for them to reform. To save us all time and energy this morning let me address the issue of “whatifery”.

    If you ask us, “What if, at some later stage, republicans meet your requirements and do become involved in exclusively democratic politics; will you join them in government?” We say to respond to that question would require us to contemplate an hypothesis which is not simply suspect and implausible but quite frankly requires us to suspend intellect, judgement and logic. Robbo, 2005

    It seems that Blair’s likely offer of joint direct rule produced the Damascus conversion.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Nevin

    You think it was the threat of Direct Rule and not some skeletons that prompted the change.

    I’m not so sure………..of what may lie in some locked cabinet in a London department.

    Maybe some day we will all find out.

  • abucs

    Agree with all the quotes Fair Deal mentions.
    Still, as Peter said at the moment, the structure of government with 4 co-alition partners (at the moment) IS necessary to build confidence.

    Especially agree with

    “…days of large increases in public spending are not sustainable. We need an economy that creates wealth not merely one that consumes public spending.”

  • Nevin

    FD, I’m sure there are skeletons too – and perhaps the some day will come quite soon. That little slip by Junior and Foster’s impetuosity have together created a lot of problems for the DUP leadership.

  • Kensei,

    There is capitulation to the DUP and then there is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. No other party is going to swallow root and branch a proposal for restructuring power-sharing institutions put forward by the DUP. But then I doubt that Robinson is naïve enough to believe that they will.

    Parties will have to accept that there are organisational and economic deficiencies in the current arrangements and will have to address these at some point. That will inevitably mean tackling the bloated behemoth of the devolved institutions and the attendant areas of local government and administration of public services.

    Robinson is actually sounding a dissonant note with some of his comments about public sector spending. What he is saying is a million miles away from his leader shrilly demanding more and more money and squeaming about Gordon Brown being “the enemy”. Similarly if Robinson’s remarks are carried through to their logical conclusion local government restructuring that has been considered suspiciously by unionists and public sector job cuts will be the result.

    Suspicion of unionists aside, there will be a point when all communities here will need to get down to the important business of providing efficient and cost-effective government and that simply can’t be done without structural changes.

  • IJP

    German-American

    All votes currently requiring 40% of each tribal designation (including those where a petition of concern is raised).

    Personally, I’d also require such a vote to approve the Executive.

  • barnshee

    “But then I doubt that Robinson is naïve enough to believe that they will. ”

    Robinson is simply laying the foundations for the excuse ” it wasn`t me guv honestly I tried to cut but those pesky Shinners/Alliance/Ups would not agree to my proposals”
    Sadly he may very well be right

  • IJP

    barnshee

    100% correct.