We’re in the foothills of reform

Reform of government is a never-ending process of change, says DUP Finance Minister SIMON HAMILTON

A year ago, upon taking office as Finance Minister, I outlined my vision that Northern Ireland should aspire to have the most innovative public sector in the world, harnessing the advantages of our size and our experience and leveraging the opportunities of public spending pressure to renew, redesign, rethink, restructure and reform our government.

We live in an impatient world. I knew a year ago that some would expect the results of my reform agenda to materialise almost instantly. That was never going to be the case.

If we are to reach the summit of public sector transformation, then we must first ascend through the foothills.

The level of reform we need isn’t achieved overnight or in one year or even in the current term of this Executive.

It is, arguably, a never-ending process of change - always innovating; always reforming; always addressing emerging challenges.

A lot of the last 12 months has been spent putting in place what I have called the ‘architecture of reform’. This includes:

l the creation of the Public Sector Reform Division with DFP;

l an IT driven staff innovation scheme called ‘Ideas Engine’ which gives staff the chance to be involved in service redesign;

l the launch of the NI Public Sector Innovation Laboratory with the inaugural lab examining the effectiveness of the regulatory impact assessment process and other labs planned to look at dementia and innovation in procurement; and

l Executive agreement to engage with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to conduct the first ever sub-national public governance review, providing a strategic underpinning for Northern Ireland’s reform agenda.

In a range of areas across DFP such as shared services, e-government and asset management, reforms have been bringing about continuous improvement over the past year.

I am proud of the ongoing success of our shared services with savings of over £15million on rent, rates and service charges delivered by Properties Division and Account NI achieving 90 per cent of payments to suppliers within 10 days.

We’ve witnessed an expansion in our e-government with more services including SpatialNI and GeNI launched this year and more to come. And an ambitious asset management strategy which will pursue potential savings of over £50million by 2022 has been agreed.

I know that when I first said that I wanted to build the most innovative public sector in the world, there were many who thought it was a noble aspiration but out of our reach. Nothing I have seen or experienced over the past year has made me doubt that it is an attainable aspiration.

In fact, much of my experience over the last year has highlighted just how innovative government in Northern Ireland already is. Conversations with other countries have revealed that far from being also-rans, Northern Ireland is amongst the best anywhere in shared services and aspects of e-government.

In the year – and indeed years ahead – I want to see us build on the success so far. Begin to move out of the foothills of reform and keep climbing towards the summit of an innovative public sector