Changing politics and government in Northern Ireland

Devolution has delivered for the people of Northern Ireland but Stormont is far from perfect. The Assembly and the Executive may have achieved much, but there is a great deal to do and room for improvement.

The DUP – whilst always being pro-devolution – has argued consistently since 1998 that the system of government at Stormont was too big and too bloated. We have, through perseverance, begun to shrink the size of Stormont. As a result of DUP determination we have delivered:

  • a reduction in the number of Government Departments from 12 to 9;
  • a reduction in the number of Special Advisors;
  • a reduction in the number of MLAs per constituency by one from 2021.
  • a reduction in the number of councils from 26 to 11.
  • arrangements for an Opposition in the Assembly.

The DUP were responsible for establishing the Northern Ireland Public Sector Innovation Laboratory in the Department of Finance. This novel approach to policy making is based on the principles of co-design and co-production and has seen government officials work with academics, business leaders and Third Sector representatives to examine and suggest policy solutions. Areas which they have focused on include dementia, regulatory impact assessments and citizen services. We believe that innovative approaches to policy making are important especially as the challenges facing society are growing.

The DUP has also been the drivers of an ambitious programme of Public Sector Reform across Departments, with the European Union recognising Northern Ireland as “one of the European Regions most active in the field” of public sector innovation. Public sector reforms and innovations that have advanced in recent years include:

  • engaging the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to conduct the first ever sub-national Public Governance Review;
  • entering into a digital partnership between Northern Ireland and Estonia;
  • establishing key elements of public sector innovation architecture such as the Northern Ireland Public Sector Innovation Laboratory and
  • creating a £30 million Change Fund in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 Budgets to support reform-orientated, innovative, preventative and collaborative projects across the public sector.
  • the SBRI fund contained within the 2016/17 Budget.

The Northern Ireland Executive has also been aggressively pursuing efficiencies across the public sector primarily through the work of the Department of Finance and Personnel. Key examples include:

  • between 2009/10 and 2013/14, 31,619m² of DFP managed office estate has been vacated and £16 million has been saved in rent, rates and service charges;
  • energy consumption has been reduced by 10% between 2011 and 2014 across the DFP managed office estate;
  • £1.8 million has been saved since 2014 using Collaborative Procurement contracts across government for common goods and services;
  • Network NI has reduced the cost of network services by almost two- thirds over 4 years, saving £12 million and
  • IT Assist has reduced the cost of IT provision per user by more than 30% in 3 years and has saved over £29 million.

Furthermore, individual Departments have driven out inefficiency within their own budgets with significant reform programmes such as the Review of Public Administration and the creation of the Education Authority.

We want to continue to reform our public sector and improve our political system. This is our Plan to change politics and government in Northern Ireland.

The DUP believes that the time is now right to reform the system of political donations in Northern Ireland. In the spirit of encouraging openness, transparency and fairness in political donations, we support implementing the same regime that exists across the UK. This would include barring Northern Ireland political parties from accepting donations from outside of the United Kingdom and the publication of donations.

Public confidence in the expenses system at Stormont has been undermined. We strongly believe that it is imperative that the system is changed so that confidence can be restored. We support moving to a system similar to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) which operates at Westminster which independently oversees and regulates MPs business costs and expenses.

Good progress has been made in removing the ‘ugly scaffolding’ at Stormont. We are reducing the number of Departments, the numberof MLAs and we have created the capacity for an official opposition but we want to go further.

We still firmly believe that the best form of government for Northern Ireland would be a voluntary coalition Executive with weighted majority voting in the Assembly of around 65%. This would bring an end to Community Designation.

This will remain our long term goal. We have made slow but sure progress on reforming Stormont and will continue to focus on this important issue during the next Assembly term.

The DUP believes that all parties should subscribe to a proper, structured, long term, cross-government National Reform Plan for Northern Ireland.

A Reform Plan should be agreed between Executive Parties and complementing the direction laid out in the Programme for Government. It should have measurable targets and agreed implementation dates with official lead for its delivery handed to the Department of Finance and Personnel with Ministerial oversight via the Executive Sub-Committee for Improving Public Services.

A National Reform Plan should have several elements and not have the sole purpose of helping the Executive to save money and live within its means. While this objective is important, improving public services is every bit as much if not more about adapting government structures, processes and methodologies to delivering better outcomes for our citizens as well as increasing economic competitiveness.

Elements of a National Reform Plan for Northern Ireland could include:

Other jurisdictions have been successfully experimenting with alternative models of service delivery. These alternative models – like Mutualisation and Payment by Results contracts – are aimed at producing better outcomes for citizens. The DUP proposes that the Executive agrees to examine these options further with a view to commencing pilots by no later than 2017/2018.

The NICS Voluntary Exit Scheme has successfully started but we believe that a reduced Civil Service is not enough. The DUP proposes the commissioning of a Civil Service Reform Plan which will focus on developing the skills and capabilities needed to meet the challenges of the future.

People are increasingly getting used to accessing services on their phones, via tablets or through their PCs. If citizens are used to booking taxis or ordering their shopping online then demand for interacting with government services on mobile devices and online will only increase. People will rightly demand the same accessibility to government services as they get from business.

The Northern Ireland Executive has made good progress in its roll out of digital services, surpassing its original ambitions. The Digital NI project has seen services such as applying for rate relief, applying for free school meals and school transport, applying for fishing licences, registering a birth, death or marriage and applying for DARD grants now available online.

We propose that Northern Ireland sets an ambition to emulate places like Estonia where all government services are accessible online with high rates of uptake by digitally aware and engaged citizens. We will support putting in place the necessary infrastructure including a Citizens ID, Citizens email account and cross-public sector interoperability system to move Northern Ireland towards realising a truly digital government.

Northern Ireland has developed a range of shared services which are amongst the best in the world. Opportunities exist to expand our shared services further. In particular, we will work towards amalgamating the work of Enterprise Shared Services and the Business Services Organisation (which operates within Health and Social Care) with the aim of having one shared service organisation providing HR, IT, Network, Records and other services as soon as existing contracts permit.

In order to continue the positive work funded through the 2015/16 and 2016/17 Change Funds which supported projects like the Condition Management Programme, Collaborative Skills and the All-Island Congenital Cardiac Service Model, a Change Fund should be created in future Budgets with the quantum of funding to be determined during Budget negotiations.

The DUP is committed to a UK first by establishing an Office of Data Analytics. This office will examine existing government data to find better ways of doing things and tackling difficult issues. This model has been successfully developed in New York and other US cities delivering better results for people and government.

Northern Ireland is the only part of UK government that has not established a What Works Centre. These centres enable policy makers, commissioners and practitioners to make decisions based upon strong evidence of what works and to provide cost-efficient, useful services. The DUP is committed to establishing a What Works Centre and participating in the existing network of such centres.

Close Learn More