25 September 2023

NORTHERN IRELAND: Service delivery to demand collaboration

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The former head of Northern Ireland’s Public Service, Sir Malcolm McKibbin (pictured) says any restored Executive Government in the Province would need to work more collaboratively if struggling services were to be secured.

The Northern Ireland Government collapsed in January 2017 and Sir Malcolm said Ministers in its replacement would need to take tough and brave decisions.

Helping to launch a new report outlining a number of suggested ways to reconfigure how public money was spent in the Province, Sir Malcolm painted a bleak picture of the status quo.

He said there had been a “gradual deterioration” across public services, with a number apparently approaching a “cliff edge”.

Sir Malcolm said problems caused by continuing Treasury constraints on public spending had been compounded by the nearly two-year absence of a Government, with the UK’s pending exit from the European Union only compounding the problems.

He said he had worked with consultants Deloitte to produce a detailed analysis of the workings of the Public Service in Northern Ireland and how it could be improved.

The State of the State report offers a range of ideas, many suggesting new technology and digitisation to streamline and rethink traditional models of service.

Senior Partner at Deloitte Northern Ireland Jackie Henry said Governments around the world were responding to their own particular challenges in different and innovative ways by, for example, reconfiguring services and developing smart cities and regions.

“Given the relatively small size of Northern Ireland, both geographically and demographically, it is feasible that many of the innovative technological and digital initiatives already employed elsewhere could be successfully introduced to manage or influence service demand, reduce costs and promote better outcomes,” Ms Henry said.

Meanwhile, the head of Northern Ireland’s public spending watchdog has blasted the Public Service for a culture of shortcuts and a failure to manage taxpayers’ money.

Comptroller and Auditor-General of the Audit Office, Kieran Donnelly said it was clear that “value for money isn’t front and centre in the minds of just too many Civil Servants”.

Speaking during the continuing inquiry into the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, Mr Donnelly said complex areas of work needed specialists, even if this meant paying more to bring them in from the private sector.

Belfast, 21 October 2018

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