In light of the public health situation, Parliament Buildings is closed to the public.

No public tours, events or visitor activities will take place, until further notice. 

Assembly business continues, check the business diary for information on Plenary and Committee meetings.

Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 07 November 2007

COMMITTEE FOR FINANCE AND PERSONNEL

OFFICIAL REPORT

(Hansard)

Northern Ireland Civil Service Reform

7 November 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mitchel McLaughlin (Chairperson)
Mr Mervyn Storey (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs
Dr Stephen Farry 
Mr Simon Hamilton
Mr Fra McCann
Mr Adrian McQuillan
Mr Declan O’Loan
Mr Peter Weir

Witnesses:

Mr Bruce Robinson ) Department of Finance and Personnel
Ms Emma Wilson )

The Chairperson (Mr McLaughlin):

I welcome Bruce Robinson, the permanent secretary of the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), and Emma Wilson, of the corporate services group of DFP, to this morning’s Committee meeting. The members’ pack contains documents that are relevant to the evidence session, and, of course, Civil Service reform is central to the Executive’s draft Budget. Consideration of that area can be included in the Committee for Finance and Personnel’s report on the draft Budget.

Mr Bruce Robinson (Department of Finance and Personnel):

Thank you, Chairperson, for your welcome. I am pleased to be back with the Committee. In our update report we have chosen not to detail individual projects — which are important — but to convey to you how crucial a piece of work we regard the reform of the Civil Service. The projects themselves have reached important stages in their implementation. Those projects and work on them are significant aspects of the Programme for Government, and, therefore, lie at the core of what the Executive want to achieve in the incoming period.

That has served to increase the focus that that work attracts. That is not to say that it did not attract a great deal of energy, input and effort previously, but the important contribution that the work will make to the Programme for Government doubly underlines those.

I want to point out a typo in our submission that escaped our proofing and for which I apologise. The final section of the penultimate bullet point, which is at the bottom of first page, should read:

“against a target of 2303 by 31 March 2008”.

Mr O’Loan:

That is a nice coincidence.

Mr B Robinson:

We will happily talk about each of the projects, or, if you prefer, we can respond to questions from members.

The Chairperson:

If members are of a mind to proceed with the discussion, we will do that, and we may want further information as the session moves along.

Mr Weir:

A headcount reduction has been mentioned. Having grown up watching ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes Prime Minister’, some of us may be cynical. What assurances can you give that reducing headcounts and consequently making efficiency savings is not an exercise in playing with figures, for want of a better term? Can you assure us that people have not simply been reallocated under a different heading to make it look as though changes have been made, when, in fact, the figures have been massaged?

Mr B Robinson:

Regarding the numbers to which I have just referred, there have been three components to the progress that we have made on that. We are actually achieving a reduction in posts. Over the past two and a half years until the end of September, the posts of approximately 650 people who were part of the total number of the Northern Ireland Civil Service have been taken out. Over the same period, some people have been redeployed to the reform projects that are in question. Approximately 400 people have been redeployed to those projects on a short-term basis. In the medium term, those posts will no longer exist; the people will remain.

I am sure that the Committee will appreciate that, quite simply, as we build up the capabilities to implement Account NI next month in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) and DFP, people who are familiar with the new systems will be needed in the shared-service centre to work on them and be ready to take delivery of that work. Some dummy runs on that work are currently taking place. We have not been able to remove those people who are working on that task in their original Departments; to do so would create the severe risk of the systems’ not delivering. That is the reason for the overlap.

The timetable under the public service agreements (PSAs) refers to Account NI being fully operational by 1 April 2009. By that stage, we will have wound down the numbers of people who are in the current Departments, which will allow the shared-service centre to take on that activity. Ring-fencing the workers is a short-term, time-bound and specific measure.

Inevitably, in a system that has approximately 25,000 people, at any point there will be a fair number of vacancies. Those posts are funded but unfilled. We have been tightening up that system, and a significant reduction has resulted.

We have developed some of our work that has been outsourced to us from England. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has outsourced work to the Department for Social Development (DSD), and we have seen growth in that. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has taken on a small amount of work that was done previously across the water and is now done by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI). Therefore, there are particular areas to which we have redeployed people. I have no doubt that the Minister will make that clear in the run-up to his speech on the acceptance of the Budget. He will want to set out not only where we have come from, but he will develop what he sees as the next stage.

It is difficult to do anything other than to reassure you that we have set about the task in a serious way, and we have made progress that does not involve massaging or manipulating numbers. There is no doubt that the efficiency savings that we must achieve under the comprehensive spending review (CSR) over the next Budget period are such that all the Departments know that they must examine seriously how they deliver services. Part of the solution will come through the new projects, and with much better use of technology we can eliminate exercises that are carried out manually. The next stage will be the only way that we can offer you proof of how that system is taken on board on a Department-by-Department basis.

Mr Weir:

Your submission refers to procurement savings that have been reallocated effectively and have presumably been used in front-line services through the Budget. In addition to the procurement savings, which are part of process of creating efficiencies, have any additional efficiency savings to date been made as a result of the programme? Could you identify the scale of those? The £200 million figure is a top-line figure, but to what extent have other efficiency savings been made?

Mr B Robinson:

To make a distinction, in the current phase we have made saved around £200 million. Between now and publication of the final Budget, Departments are working on the allocations that they will receive. A significant amount of that work has yet to come through.

The projects in the Civil Service reform programme are funded on the basis of value for money (VFM) savings that have been worked out on a project-by-project basis. Therefore, savings that are related to those projects still have to be released. For example, the HR Connect project will mean that approximately 500 fewer people are employed in the Civil Service on personnel activities than has been the case up to now. That is part of the transfer of the work to our major contractor. Each of those projects has savings built in, but given the CSR climate and as the date of implementation draws near, one of the challenges that the DFP is setting for itself — and that it wants other Departments to set for themselves — is to ask what additional savings can be made. If savings can be made, they will help to deliver on our target of 5% administration savings over the course of the CSR.

The Chairperson:

What is the business case for outsourcing work from Departments in Britain? Does that take into account the impact that the administrative burden of that outsourcing has on the domestic efficiency programme? Is it a net income generator, or is it robustly reviewed and assessed in the first instance?

Mr B Robinson:

In outsourcing work to the Department for Social Development, DWP wants to ensure that it can secure that work at a cost that suits its own purposes, within the CSR. DWP has a settlement that is -5%, which is one of the tightest settlements for the CSR period across the water. Therefore, DWP will not outsource that work to DSD without ensuring that it will achieve its targets in the cost of processing. The fact that DWP has that reduction is creating a need for negotiation between DSD and DWP about continuing that work over the next three years. The drivers to achieve efficiencies are coming from the contracting party, and not from DFP. The jobs that are associated with the work that comes from across the water are outside the purview of our work on savings because they are being driven by DWP.

The Chairperson:

I do not want the Committee to become bogged down in the issue. However, I assume that we are not dealing with a like-for-like comparator whereby DWP can outsource work to what is, effectively, another Civil Service branch, at a reduction that from its point of view makes savings and makes the effort worthwhile. Should we include the additional administrative costs in our calculations? Does that create any difficulties in achieving the type of efficiency targets that we have set for ourselves?

Mr B Robinson:

No; that is not my understanding of the matter. DSD looks at the outsourcing as a complete, stand-alone piece of business that includes the administrative costs.

The Chairperson:

That represents a value-for-money proposition.

Mr B Robinson:

A cross-subsidisation does not occur.

Mr Beggs:

What proportion of that 2303 headcount reduction has resulted from efficiencies, such as the introduction of new processes and from work being done more efficiently? What proportion of that reduction is a result of work having been subcontracted through another method such as outsourcing? I am trying to determine how much of that figure is due to genuine efficiencies — where jobs and funding have been saved — and where jobs have merely been outsourced from the Civil Service and, consequently huge savings have not been made. How much of that figure accounts for real savings?

Mr B Robinson:

The core presumption is that they represent savings. We have not analysed the figures on the basis of asking whether any of the work was subcontracted. However, I am happy to return to the Committee on that point. The savings that are outlined in our submission are concerned with work that Departments carry out and that they have become more efficient in doing. However, I cannot give you a specific answer on whether outsourcing has been included in the figure. I will check on that matter and report back to you.

Mr Beggs:

If savings are to be made, you ought to be able to give figures that describe what the change can deliver. If the Department were a business, it would be able to do that. Financial savings and improvements in service are the key points that should be illustrated; a number by itself is meaningless unless you know that money is available for use elsewhere in the Budget.

Mr B Robinson:

I explained in my answer to an earlier question, I am sure that either in the Budget speech or between now and when he makes it, the Minister will talk about how savings have been achieved. We have already discussed the matter because it is an important component. I accept entirely your concern that having only a number does not illustrate that savings that have been made, which is the case.

Mr Beggs:

Saving £47 million between September and March is a procurement target. Given that ‘Fit for Purpose: The Reform Agenda in the Northern Ireland Civil Service’ was published in October 2004, are you confident of achieving that saving?

Mr B Robinson:

We will be stretched to get there. I am more confident now about meeting that target than I was a year ago. It took us some time to build up momentum, not just in the drive to save the money, but in the structured capturing of those savings and in dealing with the Audit Office to meet criteria with which it was comfortable. A great deal of work was involved in that. We drew together the experiences in Scotland, Wales and London in a conference with the Audit Office to settle some issues around quantification. We will get there, but we will not exceed that target by much.

Mr Beggs:

Annex C of your submission discusses the details of Account NI. You have indicated that user-acceptance testing is due to be completed at the end of October 2007. Has that been completed, and has it been accepted as a valid system?

Mr B Robinson:

Yes. We will implement the system at the beginning of December. We will go live on 3 December in OFMDFM and in DFP. That is a month later than we had anticipated. We were delayed for a week — not a month — but we can implement the system only at the month’s end, because there is added risk if it is done at any other time. Therefore, we decided to defer. However, the user-acceptance work has been completed.

Mr F McCann:

I have asked this question in the past. How can the service be fit for purpose if it is losing so many jobs? Usually, those who leave are those who have been offered the best packages or who have been the longest in their positions. The service is losing a great deal of expertise. Have any measures been put in place that will reveal whether Departments are under severe stress as a result of the loss of jobs and expertise? Recently, in another Committee, the head of the Social Security Agency forecast the loss of 40% of his workforce. He said that that would have a dramatic effect on how the agency was run and would also have an impact on the quality of service to the public.

I have raised that issue because I want to know whether any measures are in place that will allow the detection of severe stress with the loss of so many jobs.

Mr B Robinson:

Let me draw an important distinction. Here, we are reporting what has happened; however, you are referring to what might happen with DSD and the Social Security Agency as a result of the discussions with DWP.

Our work to date has not brought about any redundancies. Natural wastage has meant that all the jobs and people concerned have been absorbed elsewhere in the system. The Northern Ireland Civil Service has an annual turnover of something like 5% of the workforce. With 25,000 people, that means that there is substantial scope for change.

All our work up to now has been in organisations where work has ceased, and the people who have been doing that work have been deployed elsewhere in that Department or the NICS. At present, therefore, no one has been made redundant. The loss of experience has largely been coped with, as people retire and choose to move to other jobs.

We have not, therefore, experienced the stress or strain to which the Member refers. Page 2 of our submission contains a diagram that illustrates the reform process. Account NI or Records NI are described the heading “new working methods”. Very different jobs will be created under those projects, given that several of the components that used to be done directly by people are now done automatically by the technology. Part of our challenge is to reconfigure how we work and capture the benefits that the new technology will bring.

We are moving from a phase where there has been considerable emphasis on that, to one which will be much more intensive. At present, in answer to the Committee’s very proper concerns, the Department must put a lot of emphasis on training people and providing them with the skills to deal with the new tasks.

Much of the stress comes from individuals feeling uncertain about were they will be and what demands their jobs will place on them in the future. The Department has improved the way in which it predicts the numbers of people that it will need, and people are reassured by seeing significant numbers of staff being successfully redeployed. Clear planning of the staff numbers involved and, above all, working really hard to cope with the new demands should contribute greatly to a reduction in anxiety and stress, or even avoid it in the first place.

Mr Hamilton:

The issue that I want to raise has partially been touched on. Most, if not all, of the reforms are centred on IT or telecommunications. In the Committee’s experience, IT roll-outs, including some of those in your Department, have not been good. How rigorous is the phasing in and testing of the new systems? In order to achieve the sort of savings that we all want to see, the systems must be right and fit for purpose from the moment that they go live. How have the lessons learned from previous schemes been implemented in the roll-out of the new programmes?

Mr B Robinson:

The Department is doing two things differently, which will undoubtedly mean that it is doing them better. However, I am anxious about that. Until the system is up and running, I will fret about it. One must have some anxiety about such big projects.

As I said, we are doing things differently. Gateway reviews have been introduced as standard practice with such projects as a direct response to some of the difficulties and problems that arose in the past. The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) in London developed the framework for gateway reviews. I had not encountered them before coming to work on the current projects, but my experience of them has been very positive.

The review is a formal five-stage structured process. The senior responsible officer (SRO) in charge of each project asks for the review to be done. The review panel is made up of trained and experienced personnel. The panel reviews the project in one week. A key part of the review is choosing who to interview. The SRO gives the panel the names of 50 key people, 25 of whom will be involved in the project and 25 will be stakeholders. The chairperson of the gateway review chooses who to interview; and those interviews last for about one hour.

In my experience, all the gateway reviews work the same way. The review team begins work on a Monday morning and produces a draft report for the SRO by Thursday afternoon. Although the report is given personally to the SRO, he or she is duty bound to flag up the outcome. The red, amber, green (RAG) system is used to assess the report. If the gateway review is labelled as red, there are clearly serious issues to be addressed, or issues to be addressed quickly, and the report explains what they are. Amber status usually means that the review team is flagging up an issue that it considers important, but recognises that action is happening in the project to address it. The gateway review seems to have been a powerful tool. `

A year ago, DFP also set up an oversight board for those projects. The subtlety is that there are proper governance arrangements in place for all of those. The Department was concerned to get an overview about how they interact together. Therefore, the oversight board is not actually part of the strict corporate governance of the projects, but a subgroup of DFP’s own departmental board. It is chaired by Dennis Licence, who is an independent board member with a lot of experience in those areas. The SROs who are in charge of each of the projects attend board meetings. That is a mechanism by which the Department manages what it calls the interdependencies and the bigger associated risks. The process was reviewed externally in August. At present, the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) is also examining how the Department deals with the matter. Feedback from the August review was reasonably positive. It advised the Department of steps that it could take to strengthen the process.

To be candid, I cannot give the Committee any guarantee. It would be foolish to do so. However, the Department now takes two different approaches to such projects with the objective of making sure that it does not repeat previous mistakes.

Mr O’Loan:

There are a few questions that I want to ask, although they overlap a little. I appreciate the frankness of Mr Robinson’s answer about the inability to give absolute guarantees on the matter. It is better that the Committee is naive to the risks.

With regard to the NI Direct programme, particularly the most public element of that, which is the introduction of a single phone number, the concern is that if it goes wrong, it goes wrong in a public way and the whole programme will look incredibly foolish. The Department has mentioned partial roll-out in December 2008. Even that seems as though it will be difficult to manage. As well as getting the programme to work, presenting it to the public will be difficult. Although it might sound like a sensible approach to a big project, how can the public understand that the pilot is being only partially rolled out? There will be huge frustration when people try to contact Government only to be told that the NI Direct number does not apply and that they must go through the ordinary channels, whatever they are. I envisage that there will be much difficulty and high-level risks with that.

Mr B Robinson:

The member is absolutely right. I feel much happier that the Department is doing the NI Direct work with the experience that it has gained from having done those other projects. I agree absolutely: NI Direct will be the litmus test of confidence. The Department has learnt a lot from those other projects — for example, about the degree of planning that must be done. One might believe that a good degree of planning has been carried out for a project that will last two or three years, and then discover 18 months into it that there were issues that should have been considered with clarity at the beginning, but were not. That is all grist to the mill for tackling the project. Therefore, it gives me, and, I hope, the Committee, reassurance that it is best that the Department undertakes the project with the benefit of all of its other experience.

At present, I cannot go nap as to what the precise model will look like. The Department will examine that during the new few months. With regard to the point that the member raised about the partial roll-out versus the single-number issue, the Department must bottom out some elements of that. Although I cannot commit as to what the Department will do, as not enough work has been done for it to be certain, it is feasible to introduce a single number and for the work that will come from that to go into more than one strand. The important element will go into the new strand of NI Direct, which, therefore, will have responsiveness and quality. However, for some time, you will be forced to thole other work going into areas that are not yet part of phase-one roll-out. Simultaneously, you will want everyone — even those who are not involved in phase one — to understand how the service has been improved and to create the sense that things can be done better.

The Civil Service has improved the quality of its telephony response to the public. I am not inviting everyone around the table to send me lists of complaints that they have in their constituency offices, because I know that they will be substantial. However, we have done work on our basic telephony, and feedback has shown that to be improved. We are also trying to create a climate in which people are aware that they do not have to wait for NI Direct and that the service can be improved between now and the end of next year. We are trying to create a dynamic that says that we are challenging how our services are being carried out and delivered. Everyone will be watching this space for the next while. The Minister has made clear his personal commitment to that. That is part of what I suggested earlier: alongside its firm inclusion in the Programme for Government, we are planning to take it up a gear as part and parcel of our response.

The Chairperson:

The fact that other people have delivered this service, as the Minister has pointed out, puts the onus on people to successfully deploy it.

Mr B Robinson:

He probably reminds us of that weekly.

The Chairperson:

I can imagine that he does.

Mr O’Loan:

You mentioned the spend-to-save issue and stated that approximately 500 civil servants would be released from carrying out transactional HR activities under the HR Connect element of the reform. That is a huge change in just one area, which might be quantified — albeit rather crudely — at around £10 million a year. Have you quantified and factored in the anticipated savings from HR Connect into the CSR-period budgets?

Mr B Robinson:

In essence, yes, and I tried to convey that in an earlier answer. In building up the business case for each of the projects, the Department had to ensure that it was achieving value for money. That work, therefore, has been completed. The contracts have been signed and, as that work comes on stream, we are paying on those contracts, and that has been factored in going forward.

Beyond what we identified a couple of years ago as the changed way of working and the need for people not to be doing those jobs, we should also look at whether there is an opportunity for us to be smarter about this and whether the integrated model, for instance, has the potential to deliver more savings. The planning of that work is well advanced, but the potential for further savings will be rolled out as the projects are rolled out. Therefore it will be some time before that becomes clear. The PSA 20 framework aims to roll out the projects in 2008 and a fair bit of 2009, so that work will have to go in parallel. We may identify areas that we think might help us achieve savings, but it will take some time to do that; it is a two-stage process.

Mr Beggs:

You mentioned the savings that might be made, but is there also the potential that significant costs might be incurred if 500 HR specialists are redeployed into new areas, retrained and, perhaps, placed in posts in which they will be working below their original grade? Is it inevitable that there will be significant initial costs and that any savings will come much later?

Mr B Robinson:

Around 350 people will be retained in HR. The jobs of the more experienced HR specialists will not go; they will be retained to deal with all of the key policies around HR and recruitment. The bulk of those whose jobs are affected are engaged in administrative activities that the technology will have removed the need for. For example, our payroll technology is very old. Therefore, much manual activity has to take place to support the system. That will not be the case when the new HR Connect contract is introduced.

Mr O’Loan:

Obviously, the measures, to which you have referred, will result in payback over many years. Can you quantify, in any ballpark way, the savings that will occur in the CSR period?

Mr B Robinson:

The savings are largely about recognising that the contracts are affordable. Value for money will be achieved by the Department’s move to fixed-price contracts to deliver services. The contracts are affordable, and the cost savings in staff are greater than the costs of the contract. As part of the benefits-realisation work, the Department is committed to making extra efficiencies in parallel. We are confident that it makes sense to sign the contracts, but we still have some work to do in achieving the efficiencies. We need to see how all that interacts as a major programme.

The Chairperson:

Does that mean that, for example, the current Budget projections do not embody any specific savings that have been reallocated?

Mr B Robinson:

The current budgets incorporate two distinct and, as yet, not joined-up streams. One is the payment for the contracts, and the Department knows that it can afford them. The other is the commitment to achieve 5% efficiency savings across the piece.

The Chairperson:

Is that a downstream benefit that will emerge, which is not currently projected?

Mr B Robinson:

The money has been withdrawn from the departmental baselines, so it is part of the money that the Executive have had to redeploy in areas of expenditure that the draft Budget is pointing to. At this point, I cannot join up those two pieces. However, it is inevitable that the contracts and the efficiency savings will be joined up because the reform programme will allow the Department to continue its business and to do so at a lower cost, thus achieving the savings that are built into the CSR. Those two aspects will be directly linked. As is outlined in the draft Budget, the 5% of efficiency savings will represent £780 million. That is a grossed-up number but I cannot disaggregate that to show that savings of £25 million, or £50 million, will be made in certain areas. That will become apparent as the reforms are brought together, and the Department has the ambition to consider whether further savings can be achieved and released.

Mr O’Loan:

I read what your paper said on Workplace 2010. Are you getting worried about the delivery of Workplace 2010?

Mr B Robinson:

The Department would have preferred not to have had a delay so, in the narrow sense, that is a concern. However, we are not any more concerned than is outlined in the paper. The Department is now in the legal process, and that is where the matter sits.

Mr McQuillan:

In your answer to Fra’s question, you said that the Civil Service employees would have to be absorbed into different positions. What happens after that? You have not ruled out that there will be redundancies?

Mr B Robinson:

I would describe it this way: three years ago, when the reform agenda was outlined and a target headcount reduction of 2,303 was set, there would have been a lot of anxiety that that reduction could be achieved only through redundancies. However, we learnt much as we worked through the specifics of the agenda. It must be remembered that people learn new skills when they are set a new task; we had never had to carry out such a task before. A key issue was our own internal labour market, which is much more dynamic than I personally would have appreciated. The Civil Service has 5% natural turnover each year; that figure is probably much higher than most people would have imagined. That figure has grown a bit, and, as the Committee will know, job switching is a much more modern employment trend. Despite what the Committee might think, the Civil Service is not immune to that new trend.

The turnover figure of 5% — or one in twenty — equates to 1,200 people leaving the service per annum. That alone was more than capable of coping with what we had to do. I probably have less anxiety about the issue of redundancies than I did, but I also recognise what has happened in the reorganisation of the health structures. Reform can lead to the need for some redundancy programmes as regards specific specialised posts. However, although I am definitely not saying that there will not be redundancies, at this point, redundancy would not be our biggest concern.

Mr McQuillan:

There will not be major redundancies, if any at all.

Mr B Robinson:

I do not think so. We all know the disadvantages of introducing a redundancy programme in a big structure such as the Civil Service; a service-wide scheme would have to be run, and so on. The redundancy option is not without its downsides; it is not as big a solution as people sometimes think it is. However, that is only a comment; it is not a judgement as to where we are.

The Chairperson:

Has any consideration been given to extending the customer base for the shared service centres beyond the Civil Service?

Mr B Robinson:

There has been some consideration of that issue. When we looked at the RPA 18 months ago, there would not have been the same sort of interest in such a proposal. However, because of the changes to parts of the RPA timetable and given that the project is as advanced as it is, I suspect that the possibility of extending the customer base is now greater — as opposed to projects to produce answers, we are actually producing them and rolling them out. That opens up that opportunity.

Certainly, as regards the HR Connect contract, we have an agreement with the contractor that if the service is extended, and if there is a potential upside to such an arrangement, we can share in those benefits. Therefore, we have kept that matter in mind. However, as the Committee will appreciate, our key focus has been on getting the programmes up and running. That is base one — ensuring that these programmes work.

The Chairperson:

That is the clear priority, and there should be no diversion from it. However, surely it would be possible to commission a study to examine how the customer base could be extended going forward. That study could at least be kept on the shelf, as it were.

Mr B Robinson:

There is no reluctance to do that; it is just that it is simply not a priority at present. We were pretty stretched in keeping these projects on track. We have kept those matters as possibilities, if you like. We were conscious of the fact that we did not particularly want central Government to be actively looking at business from that point of view. It would be better if local government could find an effective and efficient way to do things — that would be the better way to initiate discussions.

I am hesitant about the aspect of your suggestion that would take away resources that currently make those projects work. In six months, when we have had a chance to digest the implications, I will happily reconsider the matter.

The Chairperson:

That is fair enough, although I am not suggesting anything that would distract from the established priorities. Given the additional time that has been created and the fact that this matter may inform discussions on the review of public administration and its outcomes, in the future, people may reflect on why more consideration was not given to it.

Mr B Robinson:

Perhaps, in our traditional supply role and in order to keep the pressure on, we might give more consideration to cost savings rather than to the projects. If substantial cost savings are to be achieved in local government, it is hard to envisage how shared-service models would not appear high on the list of things to be considered.

The Chairperson:

OK. I wonder whether it is necessary for such a small region to duplicate and replicate services.

Mr B Robinson:

The Committee’s view on that matter would be helpful.

The Chairperson:

I am conscious that the Deputy Chairperson has joined us. If there are no additional questions from around the table, does Mr Storey have anything to say?

Mr Storey:

I am fine, thank you.

The Chairperson:

Mr Robinson, you have responded well to our questions and I appreciate your candour. Since no overview was given at the start of the session, are there any issues that you or Ms Wilson wish to bring to the Committee’s attention? We will consider in the normal way what you have said and, subsequently, if anything occurs to us and you are agreeable, we will write to you with a view to further exploring those issues.

Mr B Robinson:

Absolutely. Civil Service reform is an issue in which we find the Committee’s interest particularly helpful. Although the reforms will apply across the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the Department of Finance and Personnel will implement many of them early and, to some extent, will be leading the horse to the water. Therefore, the Committee’s interest, and the stress that it places on the importance of those reforms, is helpful — not just for DFP. I hope that with the reforms being central to the Programme for Government, it will push their implementation far up everybody’s priority list. If that does not happen, the Executive’s aims will not be achieved.

In moving the Civil Service forward, we must also recognise and be realistic about the fact that a new set of demands will arise in the process of managing those big, long-term, sophisticated and expensive contracts. We must grow skills and are currently seeking to do so. However, as we begin those activities, we must be aware of the reality of the new demands that they will impose. Those are two issues coming towards us down the track.

The Chairperson:

The Committee regards Civil Service reform to be a key priority and wishes to play a constructive role in ensuring that it remains so for other Committees. Discussions on that subject will, I am sure, be ongoing.

I thank Bruce Robinson and Emma Wilson for their helpful contributions.

If any issues arise from your evidence today, we will write to you.

Mr B Robinson:

I suspect that this is not the last discussion that we will have on the subject.

The Chairperson:

I absolutely agree. Thank you.

Find MLAs

Find your MLAs

Locate MLAs

Search

News and Media Centre

Visit the News and Media Centre

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

Follow the Assembly on our social media channels

Keep up-to-date with the Assembly

Find out more