Dr John Spence argues that the NI Executive is either unable or unwilling to reform government service provision. The result is vast waste and a proliferation of Quangos.
NI sits on the edge of a retrenched and self-preoccupied UK and a very uncertain and financially unstable Europe that will likely become dominated by German interests. In the Republic of Ireland, the recent economic meltdown, triggered by the banking and housing bubbles, is now resulting in an entire generation of the educated young being lost to voluntary emigration – to a better economic life, elsewhere.
Meanwhile, here at home, our NI Assembly fiddles away, window-dressing the declining regional budget without tackling any of the fundamental changes so necessary to make NI more competitive in an uncertain future.
What have they done to face down the entrenched establishments in education and create one excellent educational system rather than the present expensive mishmash of Catholic, Protestant, Grammar, Secondary, Comprehensive, Integrated, Irish-Language schools – represented by a plethora of teaching unions? In spite of the talk there has been little action towards any meaningful reform of education.
Elsewhere, what has the Assembly done to reform any public service department, reduce the number of departments, or focus on the delivery of effective integrated services?
Pick any of the services being delivered to the 1.8 Million or so citizens of NI – in health, social services, water supplies, environmental management, agriculture, economic development, housing, etc. – and just look at the confusing multiplicity of quangos and agencies providing them. Or look at the number of assembly members we have to represent such a tiny population.
Our public administration and its delivery are bloated, inefficient and out-of-date. We have delivery infrastructure that you might expect to see if we had 10 times the population.
Our Assembly members are well aware of all this, but they really do not have the skills or intestinal fortitude to face such challenges. After all, they too receive public money and pensions – and the public sector is too large and powerful for anyone to want to attempt to change.
So we just keep trundling along with the status quo. Our Executive shelves and kicks into long grass any proposals for change, even those coming from the courts, enquiries, commissions, parliamentary committees, or any such well-founded investigations into our frequent, but quickly-forgotten, failures of service delivery.
The establishment and Unions shout loudly about any proposed or threatened cut-backs in public service budgets. These are all touted as being “frontline services” that cannot possibly be cut without endangering some dependent or vulnerable element of society.
Perish the thought that as a society we might be more self-sufficient, “sustainable” and better off with fewer, more integrated and efficiently delivered services.
PolicyNI is a welcome initiative.
Dr Spence is a businessman from Co Fermanagh