The Northern Ireland Consumer deserves choice as to who provides their public services

As we settle into the new year, there has been plenty of posts written about how the political landscape is likely to change in 2016 both north and south, which parties are forecast to do well and which ones could potentially suffer at the ballot box as well as the rise and fall of various political personalities in 2016.

Little however has been written about the policies required to transform Northern Ireland from the economic basket case it currently is into an economy comparable to our ROI, Scottish, Welsh and English neighbours. I have commented previously on the changes required to kick start the private sector, however with a reduction in the block grant looming, attention now needs to be given as to how our public services can be delivered better and more efficiently and the resizing of our bloated public sector.

A recent report published just before the Christmas break by the office of National Statistics very interesting reading as it gives us a good snapshot of the current state a key public service, MOT provision. This report is relevant as like many of our local government agencies, it is a monopoly service which offers the citizens of Northern Ireland no choice as to its provision. Like any monopoly, history, experience and common sense tells us that when there is no competition, these Government agencies have little or no incentive to actually provide or even attempt to provide improvements or efficiencies to the way their services are is delivered to the consumer.

The statistic which stood out for me in this report was the large number of vehicles (7,200) which failed to attend pre-booked MOT tests during July to September 2015. This statistic is relevant is an example of a centralised public service which is a monopoly which dictates to the consumer where and when the service will be delivered and is not delivered with the interests of the consumer in mind as anyone who has turned up late for an MOT late will have experienced first-hand the frustration of dealing with an inflexible Government Agency.

The rest of the UK has however moved on and delivered great efficiencies and improvements in the delivery of many public services. MOT’s for example which were once delivered in the same way as they currently are here are now provided in hundreds of approved MOT centres up and down the country all private sector businesses which compete against each other on price, service provision, location all in the knowledge there is a strong regulatory regime in place to ensure the service is delivered to the standards required by Central Government.

This is also the same for many other public services across the UK such as public transport, construction, building control, tourism  etc. all decentralised government services which ensures healthy competition in the particular sector and a higher level of competence which in turn drives down the cost to the consumer, improves choice and service delivery which in turn generates efficiencies in central and local government.

We all know the Northern Ireland public service needs to be drastically reduced in size and made to become more efficient, but we are seeing little evidence on the ground of real efficiencies and improvements in public service delivery.  Instead of our politicians being champions of consumer choice and policies which ensures that taxpayers money is prudently spent, we are seeing even more consolidation and centralisation of public services and in turn even more waste and inefficiency. One only has to observe our government agencies funding and delivering projects which the private sector is better placed to provide such as the construction of conference centres, sports stadia, offices and infrastructure to realise many of these central and local government agencies are simply put, out of control and not up to the job.

With the 2016 elections looming, I would hope to see our politicians starting to have a this much needed debate as to the public services central and local government are best placed to provide such as the NHS and education provision and the services that can be delivered better by the private sector as the current government structures we have are from bygone times and a urgent refresh is required.

Patrick Murdock is a dual qualified Chartered Surveyor and qualified Tax Advisor original from and currently in based Newry. An independent free thinking liberal at heart, prior to establishing his own specialist consultancy, Patrick has built a twenty year career working for a number of global advisory firms and continues to work across markets in the construction, property and final services industries and has considerable experience and practical knowledge of working day to day in the UK, Northern Ireland and ROI markets.