Reduction in the Number of Northern Ireland Departments
Committee: Assembly and Executive Review Committee
Date: Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Reference: NIA 34/11-15
Mandate Report Number: 2011/15 Third Report
1. The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is a Standing Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly that was established to:
- make a report to the Secretary of State, the Assembly and the Executive Committee, by no later than 1 May 2015, on the operation of Parts III and IV of the Northern Ireland Act 1998; and
- consider such other matters relating to the functioning of the Assembly or the Executive as may be referred to it by the Assembly.
2. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to bring forward a Northern Ireland Bill in the Third Session of Parliament. The Bill will provide an opportunity to make changes to the Northern Ireland institutions where there is broad support among the Assembly Parties and where Westminster primary legislation would be required, such as future amendments to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
3. The Committee requested from the Political Parties and the Independent Members of the Assembly their priorities for the Committee's immediate review of the provisions of Parts III and IV of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, within the available timescale set out by the Secretary of State for his proposed Northern Ireland Bill; i.e. proposals with the Secretary of State in June 2012. Following consideration of the responses, the Committee agreed that its immediate review would be the area of the size of the Assembly and the number of Northern Ireland Departments.
4. The Committee agreed the Terms of Reference for the Review, a Stakeholder 'Call for Evidence' Paper and a stakeholder list that included all Political Parties registered in NI. The Part 1 Report on the Review of the number of Members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly was published on 12 June 2012 and debated in Assembly Plenary on 26 June 2012. It was agreed that Part 2 of the Review would consider and report on the number of NI Departments by late October 2012.
5. The Committee received and considered 21 Stakeholder responses to the Part 2 Review, which focused on views on the fifth Key Issue set out in the Committee's 'Call for Evidence' Paper; that is, "The reduction in the number of NI Government departments and associated re-allocation of functions which will ensure the effectiveness of the Executive functions is maintained." The Committee also received oral evidence from Professor Rick Wilford, Queen's University Belfast, on this Key Issue.
6. The Committee commissioned and considered Assembly Research and Information Service Papers in order to inform Members' discussions and views on the issues arising from this Review.
7. In this Part 2 Review on the reduction in the number of NI Departments, the Committee adopted a strategic approach. As such, it focused its consideration on three areas:
- The objectives of the Review and, therefore, the underlying objectives of any reorganisation of NI Departments;
- The areas of commonality in terms of future broad structures of reorganisation of NI Departments between the different Parties represented on the Committee; and
- What principles should underpin the arrangements for any reorganisation of Departments.
8. As part of the consideration of these three areas, the Committee also focused its attention on the initial costs, anticipated savings and effect on employment that would result from any suggested restructuring of NI Departments.
The Committee concluded that:
a) In its Part 1 Report, Members concluded that the five Key Issues are very much interlinked and that a holistic approach should be taken. The Committee concluded that this holistic approach equally applies to Key Issue 5 on the reduction of the number of NI Departments, which is the subject of this Part 2 Review by the Committee.
b) Its objective for this Part 2 Review and, therefore, its underlying objectives for any reorganisation of NI Departments, is as follows:
"To bring forward recommendations on how a reduction in the number of NI Departments could secure more effective and efficient governance arrangements, including better co-ordination and collaboration within and between Departments and their Agencies, providing a better service and value for money for the public, consistent with the safeguards on inclusivity."
c) The following Areas of Commonality broadly reflect the Committee's views on how NI Departments could be reorganised:
1) Retain, in its substantive form, the current Department of Health; the current Department of Justice; and the current Department of Education;
2) Create a new Department of the Economy;
3) Create a new combined Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development;
4) Create a new Department for Urban and Social Development or a new Department of Communities/Communities and Social Welfare/Community, Housing and Local Government Department;
5) Revise/Reform OFMDFM.
However, these do not represent an exhaustive list of broad reorganisations and cannot, therefore, be taken as a set of recommendations.
d) The following principles should underpin any reorganisation of NI Departments:
- Non-overlap – no two Departments or their Agencies should have the same authority to act in the same circumstance.
- Span of control – involves grouping functions in manageable organisational sizes and tailoring the workload to the capacity of the Minister and their chief officials.
- Administrative efficiency – should be subject to a full cost-benefit analysis to assess cash-releasing savings in administrative functions.
- Planned and timely decisions to establish new departmental structures.
- Final decisions and arrangements for new departmental structures to be consistent with final RPA changes.
- Customer-facing – services should be grouped and organised with the intention of providing a better service to the public.
e) Following discussion on the issues of costs, savings and the impact on employment, the Committee concluded that it is important that proposed reorganisations are fully costed in advance, on the basis of a plan detailing proposed changes, with a clear statement of intended benefits and estimates of both predicted savings and costs, so that decisions can be made based on such evidence.
f) Any proposed reorganisation should be preceded by considerations on any impact on equality, again to inform decisions.
g) It is important that the costs of any reorganisation are minimised and that savings are achieved without impacting on front line services and are restricted to reductions in administration.
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