Can the Executive get on with the job of delivering?21 December 2016 - by Claire Flynn
While the scandal around the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme has been determining the headlines daily, distracting many from ‘normal business’ as we head into the Christmas period with some level of uncertainty about the Executive and its plans for the next five years, it is important to examine what we know about the Programme for Government (PfG), along with the process around it.
- The consultation on the draft PfG closes on 23 December.
- Days away from that date, delivery plans for indicators 20, (Private Sector NICEI) 43, (percentage change in energy security of supply margin) and 45 (Biodiversity) remain outstanding.
- The delivery plans are evolving. The main development seen throughout the consultation process has been an update of the delivery plans' Equality Screening sections. As with the PfG consultation above, its Equality Impact Assessment Consultation remains open until 23 December.
Delivery Plans & SRO
- The delivery plans are 'living documents' and Senior Responsibility Owners (SROs) will be key policy influencers.
- An SRO, who is a senior civil servant, is attached to each indicator. Andrew McCormick is the only SRO who is also a permanent secretary. He is responsible for indicator 20 (Private Sector NICEI).
- Some PfG outcomes are still with the Executive Office as it waits to replace a number of senior officials, including permanent secretaries and the head of Civil Service, Malcolm McKibbin, who is currently the overall PfG owner.
- The SRO for indicators 30 (total spend by external visitors) and 40 (nation brands index), which had been unnamed, has now been assigned to Colm Shannon, Director of Executive Support and International Relations at the Executive Office.
- A rhythm of reporting will be established by the oversight group, which is the Northern Ireland Civil Service board, with the head of the Civil Service as the SRO for the PfG.
- The Executive Office stated that it will announce on Twitter any changes to delivery plans.
What’s next in 2017?
- With a number of supporting strategies to the PfG (Economic/Investment and the Social Strategy) still not cleared from the Executive’s in-tray, it is clear that the consultation on these documents will now be pushed into the spring.
- We will see a post-Christmas analysis of consultation responses, featuring advice to ministers, in January but the agreed documents which were expected to go before the Assembly on 31 January will likely be delayed further.
- As a result of the current RHI furore, Finance Minister Maírtín Ó Muilleoir did not present his budget to the Assembly as proposed on 19 December and it has now been delayed until 2017.
- There exists a willingness to try and work outside the silos that defined our government for so long; permanent secretaries and all local council chief executives had their first meeting in early December.
- Expect to see the delivery plan owners being called to give evidence to Assembly committees (we’ve seen this at certain committees already). What isn’t so clear, however, is the extent to which current committee structures will lend themselves to scrutinising cross-cutting issues.
- We will see an Annual Statement of Business published in the spring, detailing all Executive bills.
The test will be whether the RHI issue impacts the collaborative approach mooted in the PfG: 'to tackle the issues together' and 'create a better future for all.'