Reforming Government

The DUP has already made significant progress in having the 1998 Belfast Agreement and its accompanying legislation rewritten. We will continue our efforts to secure the optimal arrangements to deliver efficient, responsive government.

Reforming Government

We would seek to:

  • Cut the size of government, with Departments providing the policy and strategy framework within which services are delivered
  • Seek to break down the silo mentality in Government Departments through incentivising cross-Departmental collaboration and requiring each Department to produce a collaboration plan
  • Take forward plans to create an Executive Delivery Unit which would be a strong unit at the centre answerable to FM and DFM but working across and for the Executive. PEDU, SIB, ISID and Central Procurement could be amalgamated, with the new unit responsible across government for enhancing performance, delivery of PSAs,performance management, the Efficiency Review, all evaluation and consultancy for programmes, streamlined flexible procurement,development and ongoing assessment of the Programme For Government, the Investment strategy, and providing advice and expertise. Significant savings could be realised through reducing external consultancy, closure of SIB, heightened civil service performance management, greater cross-departmental working, increased efficiency and improved delivery
  • Enhance partnership working with the voluntary and private sectors including re-engineering service delivery where appropriate
  • Exploit where possible cloud computing
  • Explore options for bulk buying across the public sector in areas such as energy- evidence from England indicates that up to one third could be outsourced for hospitals, prisons and larger schools with multimillion pound savings each year
  • Maximise the capital spend available to Departments in the current economic climate through reclassifying resource allocations
  • Promote sharing in education and across other public services,situating services strategically and reducing the duplication of having multiple offices of Government agencies such as the Housing Executive, in the same town
  • Continue efforts to rationalise, sell off, secure sale and leaseback or develop other partnership arrangements for elements of the government estate
  • Promote a single website similar to Public Contracts Scotland which brings together all tender opportunities in Departments, agencies and local government
  • Review oversight arrangements of Northern Ireland Water
  • Legislate to enable asset rich public sector service providers to raise private finance
  • Amalgamate the Human Rights Commission, Equality Commission and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner
  • Oppose a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights


CITIZEN-FOCUSED DEMOCRACY

  • Make it easier for the public to engage with government
  • Progress further the establishment of a single contact number for public services
  • Explore the potential to create a website called FixOurStreetNI for residents to report problems with streetlights, drainage,waste collection, road maintenance, etc
  • Work towards all benefit applications being made online, removing the need to attend a benefits office and allowing staff to be relocated in one or two large centres
  • All public sector jobs to be advertised online
  • Rolling out the Customer First pilot in Antrim has the potential to cut costs massively saving tens of millions of pounds- more efficient performance would place us in a better position to retain current contracts we have from Great Britain
  • Introduce an automatic payment pilot for Pension Credit


ARMS-LENGTH BODIES

  • Bring a Bill to rationalise arms-length bodies early in the next term, restoring more direct accountability
  • Require an annual performance report from those arms-length bodies which remain, with the representatives of some called to appear before Stormont committees to account for performance- we would consult the public on what information they would like to see included in these reports
  • Refashion some of the relationships between existing arms-length bodies and Government with their role focussing more on the implementation and managing of decisions taken centrally


CIVIL SERVICE REFORM

  • Step up reform, resulting ultimately in fewer Civil Service grades
  • Reduce the high administrative support ratio
  • Seek to introduce meaningful pay progression commensurate with responsibilities, productivity and innovation rather than length of service
  • Increasingly rigorous performance management
  • Take forward plans to create an Executive Delivery Unit

DEPARTMENTAL PRACTICE

  • Continue an ‘invest to save’ approach
  • Tackle culture of risk aversion among Departments and public authorities
  • Reduce consultancy costs by creating a new unit to increase internal capacity and requiring specific advance Ministerial approval for all proposed spend on external consultants in excess of £10,000


STORMONT

We believe that in the long-term, the best means of governing Northern Ireland would involve a voluntary coalition Executive and weighted majority voting of around 65% in the Assembly, resulting in an end to Community Designation. This system could provide for both an Executive and an official Opposition which would be consistent with normal democratic institutions while accepting the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.

This should be the long-term goal of all of the Parties in Northern Ireland. However, we must be realistic about the ability to achieve it in the short-term. While voluntary coalition would undoubtedly improve the performance of devolution in Northern Ireland, it would be a mistake to assume it is a panacea to all of the problems that we face.


WORKING BETTER TOGETHER

These proposals are based upon working better together under the present legal arrangements and could be implemented from the start of the new Assembly mandate. We believe that people want to see politicians working together and not scoring party-political points.

Our proposals are founded upon this goal. Some of them will require the support of other Parties while others can be effected unilaterally. For arrangements to work, the goodwill of all Parties involved will be required. Self evidently if the level of partisan politics demonstrated in the run up to the Assembly election characterised the next Assembly, it would not be possible to maximise the benefits from these proposals.


EXECUTIVE FORMATION

Under the present arrangements Departments are allocated on the basis of the d’Hondt formula. This determines both the number of Departments to which each Party is entitled and also the order of selection. After the last election this process was run informally between the Parties in advance of the formal process in the Assembly.

An extension of this arrangement would be to seek to agree an Executive through discussion and negotiation. If such agreement could be reached, it could then be formalised through the running of d’Hondt on an agreed basis in the Assembly.

It has also been suggested that a Programme for Government be agreed before the Executive is established. While this idea has merit in principle, we should be conscious of the limited time afforded by statute to establish the Executive and the challenges of obtaining agreement by five Parties. We believe that, consistent with our proposals, high level agreement should be sought on a Programme for Government, however it would be absurd to make agreement a pre-requisite to the formation of an Administration.


ALL-PARTY COMMISSION

Under the present structure of a mandatory coalition, it is desirable that decisions command the greatest possible support and authority across the Executive. This is tempered only by the temptation of ‘minority parties’ to seek to impede Executive business for perceived party political advantage. Striking the appropriate balance will not always be easy, but where possible, consensus should be sought in the Executive. 

In the present Assembly a number of significant policies have not proceeded due to a lack of widespread support from other Parties in the Executive. Those Ministers who have been prepared to engage in discussion and compromise have proven the most successful at delivering on their political and Departmental agendas. It is important that the necessary support is garnered before matters are brought before the Executive or Assembly.

One potential way to deal with the most difficult and controversial issues is to establish Cross-Party Commissions augmented with experts to address particular matters. This would allow for serious and informed considerations of some of the most contentious issues away from the public spotlight and on the basis of buy-in from all significant interests represented in the Assembly.  These Commissions could be established without the requirement of any formal change to the present arrangements.

One obvious example where a Commission could look at long-term solutions away from media attention is in the area of shared education provision.


GREATER SCRUTINY THROUGH COMMITTEES

One of the flaws of the present system of government is the lack of a formal Opposition. This is primarily because any Party with over 10 MLAs is likely to be entitled automatically to a seat in the Executive. There is however no obligation on a Party to take up its place in the Executive - any party is entitled to forgo this and form an Opposition.

However, pending changes to the present configuration, the Departmental Committees have an important role to play in holding Ministers and Departments to account.


VOTING IN THE EXECUTIVE

We believe that the Executive and Assembly operate best when Parties operate together and on the basis of unanimity. For various reasons, this has not always proven possible. However every effort should be made to rectify this position.

Until there are long-term changes to the arrangements, we believe that steps can still be taken to make the Executive more inclusive and which do not require any formal changes to the rules. Subject to the outcome of the election and based on the good faith of all Parties involved we are prepared to make the following proposal:

In circumstances where other Executive Parties behave responsibly and constructively, the DUP will not normally force a vote against the wishes of another Executive Party. Instead, we will defer any such vote pending further consideration of the issue. However, in return for such a deferral we would expect that those opposed to a proposal would set out their specific objection and proposed amendments to the paper. This offer is only sustainable where it is not used for party-political advantage or to frustrate decisions.


JUSTICE ARRANGEMENTS

Before Policing and Justice powers were devolved there were key changes to how they were to be exercised. In particular, any political role in the appointment of the judiciary has been removed; cross-community agreement is required for the election of the Justice Minister; and quasi-judicial decisions do not require Executive agreement. The structures in relation to the Department of Justice have operated well since the devolution of justice powers in April 2010, but these will expire in 2012.

We believe that any change to the current framework should only be considered in the context of a wider review of devolution. Any new arrangements will only be approved by the DUP on the same basis we applied for the present process, ensuring that the independence and integrity of the policing and justice system is upheld.


CIVIC REFORM

The Civic Forum has not been restored since 2007 and we see no case for its reintroduction. Nevertheless, where possible, we should seek to involve people from wider civic society where they can add value to decision-making.


NUMBER / REORGANISATION OF DEPARTMENTS

We propose that the number of Departments should be reduced to 6-8 and propose the following structure.

OFMdFM would be reconstituted as the Executive Office with its concentration on dealing with Executive business and including responsibility for many of the central or cross-Governmental functions.

In addition there would be seven ordinary Departments.

  • A Department of the Economy and Business with responsibility for all economic issues including skills, sport and culture.
  • A Department for Education with responsibility for young people, schools and higher education.
  • A Department of Health and Social Services.
  • A Department for Regional Development with responsibility for roads, water, transport as well as planning and urban regeneration.
  • A Department of Justice
  • A Department of Communities and Social Welfare with responsibility for Local Government, Housing, Land and Property Services and the Social Security Agency.
  • And a Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development which would also have responsibility for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.


NUMBER OF MLAs

We propose that the number of MLAs should be reduced to 4 or 5 per constituency and a maximum of 80 from the 2015 Assembly election.


NORTH-SOUTH ARRANGEMENTS

Relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have never been better.
With the changes arising out of the St Andrews Agreement, the present north-south Institutions present no constitutional threat to Northern Ireland.

The extent to which they represent good value for money is a separate issue. While we strongly oppose politically motivated Cross-Border Bodies, we will support co-operation which is in the interests of Northern Ireland.


RESIGNATION OF MINISTERS

Provision already exists for the removal of Ministers within the Northern Ireland Act. However, in effect, this provision is significantly limited by the requirement that any vote of the Assembly to remove a Minister requires a cross-community majority as defined by the Act.

In practice it therefore is not possible for the Assembly to remove a Minister from either of the two largest Parties in circumstances where the Minister continues to command the support of his Party’s Nominating Officer.  This is a severe limitation on the application of the relevant provision.

As an alternative in the short-term, consideration should be given to a non-binding motion of no confidence in a Minister which, while lacking formal legal effect, could have considerable political effect and, for which, there would be no automatic requirement for a cross-community vote. Indeed, the Assembly should establish a convention whereby Petitions of Concern are not used in relation to votes of confidence.

Following the passing of a vote of no confidence in a Minister it would be a matter for the individual or the Party’s Nominating Officer to determine the future of that Minister. It would be a matter for the public as to whether the vote of no confidence was legitimate or a party-political stunt or whether the failure of a Minister to resign or be dismissed by their Nominating Officer was an improper failure to recognise the authority of the Assembly.

While this proposal falls short of an ideal situation, it may strike the balance between the opportunity for the Assembly to speak its mind and the protection of Ministers from purely party-political attacks. This alternative also has the advantage of not requiring any formal change to legislation or the rules of the Assembly.


PROPOSALS FOR ST ANDREWS REVIEW – BREAKING DOWN DIVISION

In the medium-term it is essential that we seek to break down the institutional arrangements which entrench division and divide the community. Our proposals for the St Andrews review will be designed with this aim in mind.


DESIGNATION

We propose the abolition of community designation in the Assembly. Community designation is not only fundamentally undemocratic as it does not provide equality for all Assembly Members’ votes, but it also entrenches community division and hinders the development of normal politics in Northern Ireland. As a result of the abolition of community designation new arrangements will be required for the Assembly and Executive.


VOTING ARRANGEMENTS

Where a cross-community vote is required by legislation or triggered by a Petition of Concern, a proposal would require the support of 65% of Assembly Members present and voting to pass.

The 65% threshold means that a proposal would need to have widespread support across the community but would not permit a small minority to block decision-making. It would also permit various combinations of parties to pass a particular proposal with no single party holding a veto. It would also allow differing coalitions to pass proposals on different issues without any single group holding the Assembly to ransom.

This arrangement would also encourage greater co-operation and compromise in the Assembly to obtain sufficient support for proposals to pass. In the Executive analogous voting arrangements would also be introduced to require the support of parties representing 65% of Assembly Member voting in favour to pass.

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