Northern Ireland must rethink how public services are delivered to overcome the challenges ahead

The annual State of the State report has been released by Deloitte with some fascinating observations about the challenges facing a potential future Executive in Northern Ireland.

On the lack of an Executive;

The lack of an Assembly and Executive means that decisions have not been made on reform and transformation of public services, on economic and social policies or on major planning decisions since early 2017. In that time, ambitious health reforms have slowed, the economic gap between Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and the Republic has grown without intervention and longterm infrastructure plans have stalled. In addition, in the absence of local ministers, the devolved Assembly has not been able to directly exert its influence in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

The report did contain some praise for how the Northern Ireland Civil Service has operated since the collapse of power-sharing and recognises the limits on their decision making power;

The civil servants we interviewed for The State of the State were determined to continue to implement the programmes for which they have relevant authority, acting under legal advice. However, the Arc 21 ruling on a planning decision for an incinerator has put a spotlight on the limitations of their powers, introducing further uncertainty and ramping up concerns over the viability of continued devolved government without ministers.

Believe it or not our fiscal position has actually worsened, making decisions around public services all the more difficult for a future Executive;

In the time since the Assembly and Executive were last in place, Northern Ireland’s fiscal position appears to have worsened. Several public sector leaders we interviewed told us that costs and demand are rising faster than their funding. One argued that ministers, if they returned, would need to reprioritise spending to core citizen services above their own areas of policy interest.

Some of the mounting problems that we are facing our outlined in pretty stark terms by the various policy-makers that were interviewed for the report.

The report lists suggestions about some changes that could be made in public service delivery which are worth reading in full but some recommendations include;

  1. Heath-charging for missed GP and hospital appointments, in certain circumstances
  2. Education- Area planning and rationalisation of the schools’ estate
  3. Infrastructure-tolling to fund maintenance and road upgrades, spread demand and reduce congestion
  4. Finance- Increasing the regional rate and reducing or removing levels of rates relief.

Some figures on Labour productivity;

Some figures on spending;

 

 

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs