The Stormont House Agreement included the commitment:
A reduction in the number of departments from twelve to nine should be made in time for the 2016 Assembly election, with the new allocation of departmental functions to be agreed by the parties.
The BBC’s Gareth Gordon reports tonight on some early suggestions drawn up by the head of the NI Civil Service Malcolm McKibbin.
Mr Robinson revealed to the assembly on Monday that a paper was presented to executive ministers last week. The BBC understands that if there is agreement, the re-shaped Northern Ireland Executive would look like this;
A new department called Economy and Skills would amalgamate the departments of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) and some of Employment and Learning (DEL).
The Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Development would draw together the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and some functions of the Department of Environment (DoE).
The remaining DOE functions would go into a new Department of Development and Infrastructure, alongside the current Department of Regional Development (DRD).
Another new department of Social Welfare Communities and Sport would see the current Department of Social Development (DSD) swallowing up the functions of the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL) as well of the rest of DEL. [Ed – oddly there was no ‘S’ in DCAL, but it is being singled out in the proposed new department title?]
Other changes would see the Department of Education being renamed the Department of Education and Children, as it take over a range of children’s services currently dispersed among other departments. The health department would become the Department of Health and Well Being.
What isn’t yet clear is whether the proposals will extend to reshaping the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister, and creating a slimmed-down Cabinet Office-style department. The 300-employee strong department is often criticised for keeping so many functions outside the rest of the department structure, and the constant need to get both FM and dFM staff and parties to agree policies and statements drastically slows down decision making.
Delegating many of its responsibilities – and staff – to other departments would speed up delivery and prevent so many issues becoming log-jammed. And ‘contentious’ decisions could still be brought to the Executive, allowing Sinn Fein and the DUP to exercise their veto if necessary.
The reduction in departments will also reduce the number of committee chairs and deputy chairs, making those positions more competitive amongst talented MLAs.
Some of the new department names are more than a mouthful, though unfortunate acronyms have been avoided. Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Development is not DREAD, though DAERD has a medieval or Norse feel if spelt DÆRD! And should that not be the Department of the Outdoors, or Department of Fresh Air?
Perhaps Slugger readers could help the Executive and NI Civil Service along with some suggestions that are snappier or better explain the function of the proposed departments. [Ed – negative and rude suggestions will be moderated!]
- Maybe the cryptic Department of Development and Infrastructure should be the Department of Building Things and Going Places?
- The Department of Social Welfare Communities and Sport could be the Department of Living Well [Ed – & Culture!]
- And the Department of Economy and Skills could surely be the Department of Talents (reflecting the New Testament parable) with two arms: developing talents, and generating talents.
Over to you!
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.