Reducing the number of departments by one and missing the opportunity to meet manifesto commitments

Peter Robinson told me at the end of March that:

I have a well worn copy of the manifesto because I keep it in front of me and I keep looking to see what else we have to do and we have to accomplish.

Like many other local party leaders, this week’s settlement on the number of departments and method of selection of the Justice minster won’t require any pencil ticks to be made on the pages of Peter Robinson’s manifesto.

 

From the outside, it appears that Sinn Fein won the day, controlling the eventual “settlement”, allowing one non-SF department to be dropped, and splitting its responsibilities between two departments controlled by SF and the DUP.

 

It’s worth looking back at the process that led to this week’s veto settlement.

Shortly after the May 2011, the Assembly and Executive Review Committee set out to Review of the Initial Ministerial Provision in relation to the Department of Justice and the arrangements from 1 May 2012.

This committee is chaired by the DUP’s Stephen Moutray, deputy chair Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan, and its wider membership includes representatives from the Alliance, DUP, SDLP, Sinn Fein and UUP.

The review committee worked through a set of options and sought submissions from all Stormont parties, the independent MLA, OFMdFM, The Department of Justice and the committees that scrutinise OFMdFM and DoJ.

The committee’s report concluded that “there was no broad concensus on any of the options” and agreed to “draft a Report that outlines all the different opinions, summarises the consultation outcome in terms of who endorsed which options and why, and any other comments”.

The report also noted that “a number of stakeholder responses (DUP, Green Party, SDLP and UUP) raised the issue that the Review of arrangements in relation to the Department of Justice provides an opportunity to simultaneously review and reduce the number of Government departments in Northern Ireland.”

The report which includes the minutes of the committee’s discussions, Assembly, a paper from the Assembly’s Research and Information Service and the stakeholder responses is worth a read.

 

This week’s multi-party talks took the issue outside the committee, outside minuted discussions, and into the world of media speculation and closed door negotiations between just those parties represented on the Executive.

The conclusions of the multi-party have been discussed elsewhere, but can be summarised as:

  • The five parties did not agree, but the Sinn Fein and DUP’s agreement is enough to bring the changes through the Assembly.
  • Justice Minister should continue to be elected by a cross-community vote (which is unlikely to elect anyone other than David Ford as justice minister).
  • Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) is dropped, with its functions split between Education and Trade & Investment.
  • Alliance are not happy.

With differing viewpoints and little room for manoeuvre in terms of side deals, the only realistic conclusion was going to be where Sinn Fein and the DUP could agree to as the two largest parties. And the Sinn Fein position was much tighter and less favourable to change than the DUP.

 

If you look back to party manifestos from the May 2011 elections, you’ll discover that the agreement on the way forward falls far short of many of the documents presented to the electorate. In fact, Sinn Fein are possibly the only party of the five who took part in the multi-party talks not to have fallen short of their manifesto commitments on the size of the reduction in the number of the departments.

The Alliance Party 2011 manifesto sought “an Executive formed through negotiation, that operates to an agreed Programme”. They wanted to:

Reduce Government Departments from 12 to 8

The DUP 2011 Manifesto made its position clear too.

NUMBER/REORGANISATION OF DEPARTMENTS

We propose that the number of Departments should be reduced to 6-8 and propose the following structure.

This week’s agreement was for 11 (including OFMdFM). They went to say:

  • OFMdFM would be reconstituted as the Executive Office with its concentration on dealing with Executive business and including responsibility for many of the central or cross-Governmental functions.
  • In addition there would be seven ordinary Departments.
  • A Department of the Economy and Business with responsibility for all economic issues including skills, sport and culture.
  • A Department for Education with responsibility for young people, schools and higher education.
  • A Department of Health and Social Services.
  • A Department for Regional Development with responsibility for roads, water, transport as well as planning and urban regeneration.
  • A Department of Justice
  • A Department of Communities and Social Welfare with responsibility for Local Government, Housing, Land and Property Services and the Social Security Agency.
  • And a Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development which would also have responsibility for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Were the DUP brave enough to suggest eliminating DCAL as a standalone ministry during the multi-party discussions?

The Manifesto from the Green Party [via CAIN] – not involved in the multi-party talks – wanted nine departments:

Reducing the number of government departments to nine; Health, Education (including current functions of Dept for Employment and Learning), DETI, Agriculture, DoE (including Regional Development and Rural Development), DCAL, DSD, Justice and Finance and Personnel.

Furthermore, the Green Party favour “selecting the Justice Minister in the same manner as all other Ministers”. That manner would be:

Electing ministers by PR-STV by assembly members. Elected ministers choose portfolio in order of ranking.

In May 2011, several sections of the SDLP manifesto suggested:

Serious consideration should be given to bringing together the government departments currently responsible for matters relating to our environment into a single Energy and Sustainability Department.

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT REFORM  The cost-saving arguments for rationalising government are well made. We have consistently argued that the debate is about more than reducing the number of departments – although we are ready to enter serious all-party negotiations on this.

We need to consider shared services and shared support across government, or between groups of departments, in order to rationalise the system and reduce costs. The various departments – whether at the present number or a reduced number – should not have separate establishments for policy, financial management and personnel matters.

AMBITION FOR REFORM OFMDFM has the competence to propose a redistribution of the functions of departments, including a reduction in their number, and yet has failed thus far to do anything about

  • reducing the number of Stormont departments and ministers, to better meet the major social and economic challenges facing people here. Today, there are 11 departments plus OFMDFM, something of a departure from the Agreement’s provision of up to 10 departments plus OFMDFM
  • creating a single Economy Department, as recommended by the Independent Review of Economic Policy group
  • Similarly, a new Department of Energy and Sustainability, a new Department for Learning, and a new Communities, Housing and Local Government Department – taking on board various elements of existing departments – all deserve further Consideration

Sinn Féin didn’t comment on the number of departments in their 2011 manifesto.

Similarly, the TUV didn’t comment on the number of departments in their manifesto.

The UUP’s 2011 Manifesto made no specific mention of the number of Executive departments or the number of MLAs. However, in his autumn 2011 conference leader’s speech, Tom Elliott said:

Now that the review of the Justice Minister appointment process is fast approaching – it is due in May 2012 – there is a perfect opportunity to streamline and develop a more efficient Northern Ireland government.

All parties have said they want to reduce the level of government structures at Stormont – Now is your chance!

With this ongoing review we have time to reduce the current number of government departments from 12 to at least 8, which would be a reduction of 1/3. I now challenge others to follow the lead of the Ulster Unionist Party – Lets cut the burden on our tax payers, make ourselves more efficient and give the public value for their money.

But let me make this very clear: if we don’t do this together then we will convince no-one.

Yet the UUP statement after the multi-party talks (which they call “All Party Talks” – ignoring the absence of the Green Party and the TUV) does not voice any regret that the number of ministries was only reduced by one, but just says that this is the “first step”.

The UUP has always advocated fewer Departments at Stormont and we believe this agreement is the first step in achieving that goal.

 

Multi-party discussions didn’t seem to address the other size of government issue: the number of MLAs. Fewer departments mean fewer committees, and that sits well with fewer MLAs (filling those committee positions). For the record:

Alliance wanted to “reduce the number of MLAs to 80”.

The DUP 2011 manifesto says: “We propose that the number of MLAs should be reduced to 4 or 5 per constituency and a maximum of 80 from the 2015 Assembly election.”

The Green Party manifesto recommended:

Reducing the number of MLAs to five per constituency elected by the Additional Member System with 4 MLAs elected by STV on a constituency basis and the remainder from a regional “top-up” list. Any party receiving more than 2% of the regional vote would qualify for regional members to be allocated to achieve proportionality. The Assembly would have 80 MLAs in total.

The SDLP manifesto advocated “cutting the number of MLAs from 108 to 96 by the time of the next election, with a further reduction negotiable after 2015” (taking into account “what we expect will be the consequence of legislative changes in Westminster to have fewer MPs elected from fewer constituencies”).

Sinn Féin didn’t comment on the number of departments in their 2011 manifesto.

The UUP didn’t comment on the number of MLAs in their manifesto.

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  • Carsons Cat

    Alan,
    You’ve missed one small, but significant point.

    The Assembly term isn’t over yet. There’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge yet, and plenty of Departments which could be merged/scrapped in the meantime.

    Oddly enough (proving the stopped clock principle) the UUP are probably right (on this point, and this point only) – it is a “first step”.

    Come back in 2015 and let us know how it squares up then.

  • quality

    Add to that the fact that the Alliance’s manifesto pledged to roll the functions of DEL into an Economy Department.

    In reality, there should be more Departments merged – not necessarily to save money (a populist Executive has no wish to make people unemployed, necessary or otherwise), but to try and navigate the silo mentality of the current Executive.

    So some of Agriculture can go into Environment, as can DCAL (with planning going to local councils), with the agri-food side of things going into an Economy Department. That takes two Departments away quite easily.

    Then move towards a cross-community Executive and opposition, rather than the consociational talking shop we have currently. If the DUP/Sinn Féin don’t perform, and there’s certainly evidence from their existing portfolios to suggest that’s the case, the UUP, SDLP and Alliance all have far more ammo on the doorsteps.

  • Carsons Cat – no doubt the Assembly and Executive Review Committee will start looking and consulting on department reductions at some point soon.

    But why bother rolling a single department reduction into the justice discussions? Abolishing DEL didn’t help the DUP or Sinn Fein. It didn’t need to happen for them to agree the justice issue?

  • Mick Fealty

    This ‘decisive decision’ is a rearrangement of the deckchairs in order to cover the intractable problem of Sinn Fen not being allowed by their partners in OFMDFM to go anywhere near Justice. Only two losers in this is Alliance and a department that actually made some sense.

    If there are any winners to be declared, it’s got to be the DUP (but we’re not allowed to say that any more, now justice has been ‘fixed’, again.

    Sop to the complainers in the UUP and the SDLP? I suspect that the rest is optics.

  • Alan: “Sinn Fein won the day”; Mick: “If there are any winners to be declared, it’s got to be the DUP”

    I’d say they both won – but governance will not have been improved. The DUP/SF axis controls the Executive as well as the Committees.

  • Carsons Cat

    Alan,
    “But why bother rolling a single department reduction into the justice discussions?”

    Why *not* include it? yes it would be better to get an all singing, all dancing review, now but if a small reduction can be achieved quickly then why reject it? My guess is that if you’d asked every party during the election whether DEL should have been scrapped immediately then the answer would have been yes. Oddly once Farry’s Ministerial car & salary are in the mix, the Alliance Party are a little less keen on the idea of getting rid.

    “But why bother rolling a single department reduction into the justice discussions? Abolishing DEL didn’t help the DUP or Sinn Fein.”

    Maybe it wasn’t actually all about the DUP & SF – read some of the press from the UUP in the last week. It was only last weekend they were bleating heavily about getting rid of DEL. They’re now being offered exactly what they were asking for and they can’t very well now complain as much about the DoJ arrangements (well not with any credibility anyway).

    It won’t stop the complainers in the SDLP – if possible, they appear to have even less positive to add than the UUP. At least Kennedy would appear to have something about him even if Elliott doesnt whilst both Attwood & McDonnell are both woeful.

    However, back to the man issue – the leaping on some alleged “manifesto failure/breach” by Alan is all just a little too premature and smacks a little too much of somehow leaping to Alliance’s defence to have even a shred of credibility.

  • Mick Fealty

    Nevin,

    That’s if you only take a surface view of these matters. Ford is holding this whole thing together. It may not be to his long term political advantage, but without him how do you think this arrangement could have been sustained?

    The pay off is that the Alliance party may be guaranteed Justice until such times as: they have no MLAs left to do the job; or the DUP feel that Sinn Fein is sufficiently decontaminated from their past; the DUP is replaced by a thrusting young post sectarian party from the right. Whichever comes sooner.

    In the meantime the abolition of DEL is a useful distraction in order to put gullible youngsters like yourself off the scent, and forces Alliance to swap the one Executive seat they did legitimately win through d’Hondt.

  • “forces Alliance to swap the one Executive seat they did legitimately win through d’Hondt”

    Precisely, Mick. Also agree that David plays an important role – but as a stooge.

    Being young and gullible has a certain attraction – but that was ever such a long time ago 🙂

  • cynic2

    Why so many threads on the same essential issue?

  • Mick Fealty

    Fordie threatening to walk…

  • David isn’t a happy bunny. Interesting to see Peter hiding behind UUP and SDLP skirts.

  • Mick Fealty

    Hiding? He’s playing.

  • In a rare example of actually being right about something, I suggested Ford “walking” yesterday.

    It seems unlikely that Ford can base his strategy on “Fairness”.
    Could he actually collapse the Executive. And how could he get UUP & SDLP onside with him?
    And Robinson & McGuinness look like two men who already have a Plan B.
    It would be surprising if the Special Advisors at OFM/DFM had not contemplateda scenario like Ford having a hissy fit.

  • fjh, I wonder if Steven Agnew has been approached vis-a-vis the Justice ministry.

  • Actually was that News clip from yesterday? I really should watch local news.
    A Green Justice Minister would certainly be interesting. Homespun uniforms, mocassins, bicycles and vegetarian only PSNI canteens.
    Still I cant see it.
    Might be some Norn Iron solution for a Norn Iron problem like on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Justice is in the hands of DUP and it goes to SF on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
    as no crimes are ever comitted at weekend then we dont actually need a Minister at weekends.
    Still that look on Fords face…
    I daresay DUP/SF could extend the deadline a day or so……AP must be having their Conference soon.

  • Barry the Blender

    If he doesn’t like it then David Ford can always give (another) “clear and emphatic NO”.

  • Reader

    Mick Fealty: The pay off is that the Alliance party may be guaranteed Justice until such times as: they have no MLAs left to do the job; or the DUP feel that Sinn Fein is sufficiently decontaminated from their past; the DUP is replaced by a thrusting young post sectarian party from the right.
    Or SF and the DUP could satisfy themselves that the other party wouldn’t get the job, and let the job go to d’Hondt with the threat of bringing the house down if the other party tried to pick it.

  • socialdemocrat

    The Assembly and Executive Review Committee seems to be a bit of a joke now? Perhaps SF and the DUP can agree next week what to do with Parts III and IV of the Northern Ireland Act so the committee can go for a pint in the Stormont Hotel instead of meeting with the terms of reference set up under St. Andrews…

    Carve up much?

  • socialdemocrat, the AERC is ‘balanced’ DUP/SF – 7 vs UUP/SDLP/APNI – 4 so it was always guaranteed to come up with the answers Peter and Martin had supplied to it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Alan:

    But why bother rolling a single department reduction into the justice discussions? Abolishing DEL didn’t help the DUP or Sinn Fein.

    An Alliance JM is the least worst option for both parties, but they are far from happy about the position. That is why I suspect the real reason for abolishing DEL is to exact a price on Alliance in exchange for their ongoing patronage in the Justice ministry. This change, from the point of view of DUP/SF, wipes the smirk off Alliance’s face.

    There are various arguments about whether or not it is appropriate for DEL to be abolished, but this is mainly a case of the end justifying the means.

    This is a classic Peter Robinson stitch up. Alliance can’t walk out of the executive without undermining their whole justification for taking the justice ministry in the first place. They can’t really argue with abolishing DEL as Alliance suggested reducing the number of ministries in its own manifesto and DEL stands out as the most obviously extraneous one, being the smallest ministry by budget; and aside from that, crying about not having two ministers simply looks like the behaviour of a spoilt child. The party really cannot do much except file a formal protest.

    Mick:

    Sop to the complainers in the UUP and the SDLP? I suspect that the rest is optics.

    That’s Robinson defending himself by suggesting that he’s not singling out Alliance for special treatment.

    The bit about Ford potentially walking out was a bit of mischief making from a journalist; no party leader can threaten walkouts like that in this context without a bit of wider consultation.

    Carson:

    Maybe it wasn’t actually all about the DUP & SF – read some of the press from the UUP in the last week. It was only last weekend they were bleating heavily about getting rid of DEL.

    I’d interpret that as the UUP leaking confidential Executive discussions and trying to pass it off as their idea before it was announced.

    fitz:

    In a rare example of actually being right about something, I suggested Ford “walking” yesterday.

    What part are you right about exactly – predicting a mischievous question being put by a journalist ?

    Alliance can’t walk from the Executive; to do so would risk taking the blame for bringing the whole thing down. And as for the question of whether or not a walkout is appropriate, I refer you to your own party leader’s decision to rule out leaving the executive.

    It seems unlikely that Ford can base his strategy on “Fairness”.

    No political party does.

    Could he actually collapse the Executive.

    The possibility of a collapse is why Alliance cannot walk.

    However, there are any number of approaches the DUP and SF could take to justice in the absence of Alliance co-operation. None of them are especially palatable but in the face of a bad situation they might prove temporarily acceptable.

    And how could he get UUP & SDLP onside with him?

    Why would anybody be stupid enough to want to be associated with those two disastrously incompetent, ill-disciplined and self-serving parties ?

    Nevin:

    fjh, I wonder if Steven Agnew has been approached vis-a-vis the Justice ministry.

    That would be very interesting. A have a great deal of respect for Agnew, but he’s only in the door. Ford is actually implementing an Alliance policy programme that was discussed and agreed in the period running up to the party’s decision to accept the role. The Greens with their one MLA do not have the same depth or breadth of experience.

  • Comrade Stalin seems a tad hard on the Greens and a little inconsistent.

    Surely in the topsy turvy world of Alliance “fairness”, if the UUP has 80,000 votes plus and gets one Executive seat and AP gets 50,000 plus and two Executive seats ……then surely the Green Party is entitled to about seven Executive seats.
    Steven Agnew could be a busy man.

  • fjh, perhaps a party that has been ‘gifted’ a seat at the Executive table could commence from a position of -1 in the d’Hondt process. Would that not be the fair thing to do?

  • andnowwhat

    Am I getting this right?

    SF/DUP shafted the SDLP re. justice minister.

    Justice minister then shafts Farry/his own party and does a faux flounce?

  • Comrade Stalin

    fitz, what on earth are you babbling about ?

    Nevin, what does fairness have to do with anything ?

  • “Nevin, what does fairness have to do with anything ?”

    From the APNI handbook, CS: “We’re working to build a shared society, without division, free from sectarianism and prejudice and in which everyone – regardless of religion, gender, class, disability, colour, age, sexuality or nationality – are treated with respect and enabled to fulfil their full potential, free from fear.”

  • Comrade Stalin

    The word “fairness” doesn’t appear there.

  • wee buns

    The idea of fairness as opposed to the actual word is being promoted, in that APNI handbook.
    Mere window dressing it seems.

  • It doesn’t but I thought it a reasonable description of fairness, CS.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think you know full well that fairness, irrespective of how it is defined, and d’Hondt are not the same thing, Nevin. d’Hondt was never about fairness.

  • CS, in the NI context I think d’Hondt provides a fairer, more inclusive outcome than FPTP. However, the Peter and Martin deals IMO represent a subversion of the spirit of the 1998 Agreement.

  • There’s a follow-up post that most of you are already participating on! But Steven Agnew did rule himself out …

  • tuatha

    Decisions are made by those who turn up, and stay and stay and blather until no other sane person can be bothered.
    As RosaL, Trots & MilTend demostrated over the last century or more, only those with no EQ, family or human empathy will waste their lives thus, viz steeleyes, McG and every other apparatchik, seat warming time server.
    The rest of us get on with Life, unfortunately these worms-in-the-bud do what they do, to the detriment of all.

  • Comrade Stalin

    For some reason my replies aren’t being added to the thread ..

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ah, now they are.

    Nevin :

    CS, in the NI context I think d’Hondt provides a fairer, more inclusive outcome than FPTP.

    Who said anything about FPTP ?

    What has FPTP got to do with selecting governments ? No governments are appointed this way, except minority governments.

    However, the Peter and Martin deals IMO represent a subversion of the spirit of the 1998 Agreement.

    The spirit of the 1998 Agreement with respect to the executive can essentially be summed up as the two largest parties wielding disproportionate control over the executive and the assembly. I’d say we are sticking quite precisely to that spirit.

  • “I’d say we are sticking quite precisely to that spirit”

    Only so long as you ignore that bit about seeking consensus, CS. Do you know if the UUP/SDLP OFMDFM was ever accused of the degree of bullying and behind-door-deals that have been attributed to the DUP/SF one?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Only so long as you ignore that bit about seeking consensus, CS.

    Saying that you want to uphold consensus by deploying d’Hondt is like saying you want to become a vegetarian by eating more sausages. d’Hondt is there to bypass the need for consensus where it is not easy to be found.

    Do you know if the UUP/SDLP OFMDFM was ever accused of the degree of bullying and behind-door-deals that have been attributed to the DUP/SF one?

    The UUP/SDLP executive got nothing done and was up and down like a yoyo, so there wasn’t time to bully anyone. Moreover, the dynamics were rather different in that the DUP were busy trying to bring down the executive and didn’t attend its meetings. SF were still trying to come to terms with the idea of being in government.

    I mean, do you really think the UUP and SDLP, having designed the system with the express purpose of consolidating their position and marginalizing everyone else, really would have fully and openly consulted with their lesser SF and DUP executive members ? That would be extremely naive.

  • “do you really think the UUP and SDLP, having designed the system”

    CS, I wouldn’t be so naive as to imagine that the Agreement was designed by the UUP and SDLP; they would have been relatively minor players in the process. I should imagine the chief architects were London and Dublin civil servants.

    IMO Ahern’s rush to release paramilitary prisoners without a linkage to decommissioning severely damaged the UUP and SDLP. Also Mowlam had modified the Agreement even before the first Executive had got down to business.

    Perhaps you should try some vegetarian sausages 😉 However, I think I’ll stick with the pork and leek supplied by my local butcher.

  • streetlegal

    There are two games in play here. First a political one, with the DUP/Sinn Fein alliance seeking to strengthen their own position and stranglehold on the Executive. The second game is all about the NI budget.

    Although they have failed to spell it out, implicit in the budget agreement is a large reduction of the workforce of the NI Civil Service – currently standing at around 28,000 posts. This has to fall to around 20,000 by the 2015. There is plenty of fat to trim off with twelve departments to play with, but even so it will be politically difficult for DUP and Sinn Fein – perhaps moreso for Sinn Fein as their electorate are more heavily dependent on public service employment. My guess is they will delay and delay until the tough decisions are forced upon them by the threat of imminent bankruptcy.