DAERA Departmental Monitoring Group (DMG)
The event focused on how the PFG would impact on rural areas and citizens
Initial comments from Aidan Campbell Policy Officer RCN
From an RCN perspective we welcome the consultation – its good to talk about outcomes and vision and how we want to see our society and economy developing as well as what the priorities for government should be.
It’s obviously easier to get agreement on broad outcomes but it will be more difficult to agree on indicators and measures and the real challenge will be securing agreement on the detailed action plans that Departments will be tasked with producing. Action plans will be shaped by the budgets available to Departments, political and ministerial priorities, manifestos and what can be agreed by the Executive.
For example the PFG outcome “we prosper through a strong, competitive, regionally balanced economy” - Is that best achieved by cutting corporation tax or is it best achieved by investing in 3rd level education and fibre broadband to all premises in Northern Ireland? These are the types of choices politicians will have to make – informed by evidence, engagement with stakeholders and ultimately their own political convictions argued and agreed around the Executive table.
Obviously all PFG outcomes are important to us but 4 that are particularly significant to rural citizens are:
- We prosper through a strong, competitive, regionally balanced economy
- We live and work sustainably – protecting the environment
- We have high quality (accessible) public services
- We connect people and opportunities through our infrastructure
Obviously the referendum result has led to a level of uncertainty and a number of challenges and opportunities will present themselves over the next few years. Rural stakeholders were up at the AERA committee last week and we were asked to give an initial assessment of the potential impact. RDC, NIRWN and RCN identified the uncertainty over RDP and CAP £ which have provided large transfers of EU £ to rural communities and farmers but which have also provided a rural policy framework as key concerns. All we can say at this stage is Brexit is an evolving situation with a whole range of scenarios depending on how the politics of the process plays out.
Presentation from Joe Reynolds the Executive Office
Joe Reynolds stressed that the Programme for Government in its current form was in draft form and it was a framework and would change based on consultation responses.
The OBA approach was: citizen focused, outcomes driven and evidence based
The approach shows a commitment to a new way of working and a cultural shift within the civil service towards collaboration. Used the example of the partnership panel between Permanent Secretaries and Local Government Chief Executives. Before last September they had never been in the same room.
Levels of accountability:
- Whole Programme for Government: Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) – Sir Malcolm McKibben
- Each Outcome: SRO – Permanent Secretary
- Each Indicator: SRO – Deputy Secretaries
Joe stated that this would provide clearer accountability trail across NICS to achieve the PFG outcomes and is designed to encourage civil servants to work outside their silos.
Joe Reynolds stated that once the indicators and measurements were confirmed, the data sets would be updated and available to the public on a PFG2016 website. These would be continually updated ‘in real time’ and it would be possible to disaggregate the data along section 75 group lines and super output area so we should be able to work out the impact in rural areas as well.
It is Joe’s opinions that there are too many indicators and some indicators require multiple measurements to capture the complexity of the issue government are seeking to address.
Monthly data assessment meeting where the SROs and responsible civil servants meet to ascertain whether the curve is moving in the right direction. If it is not, discussion on what could be done to improve the approach will be had. Joe stated the civil service were committed to continual engagement with stakeholders throughout the Programme for Government and not just in the design.
With stakeholder engagement, Joe assured attendees that there would not be a two tiered action plan. Stakeholders would have a role to play and be included within the action plans, not just for all departments involved with an action plan to decide. Joe stated that government was aware they could not do this alone.
Question was asked on the absence of targets. Joe confirmed that specific targets would not be set – not part of the OBA approach. A Techical assessment group(s) would be established to assess how the measures are responding to the actions Departments put in place. They will review data on a monthly basis to decide whether or not progress is being made to achieving the outcomes. If not then they will question why not and look at the story behind the change (or lack of) and what actions need to be done differently.
Community transport: some of the measurements only encompass the contributions that the public sector makes to the indicator field. They used the example of the Indicator 25 - % of all journeys which are made by walking/cycling/public transport
The entire Programme for Government is aspirational and the delivery mechanisms and budget will ultimately decide how the programme is implemented.
Can the action plans be continually reviewed and changed as the process pushes forward? Joe stated that there would be flexibility in the process but didn’t specify what the process for this would be.
Several contributors commented that this approach would need significant cultural change within the NICS – Joe stated that this process had already begun and that this would be a steep learning curve for many officials. He stated that it would push people out of their comfort zones but had support at the highest level of NICS.
Super output area disaggregation is essential for rural communities to consider how indicators are affecting different areas. Further than just publishing super output areas, government must start making the rural/urban distinction.
Investing in enterprise is essential for rural communities. Foreign direct investment does not normally impact on rural communities.
Roads and transport are essential for rural communities accessing services and employment.
Definition of a “Good job” is broad and arguably subjective.
Good jobs in Northern Ireland report by the New Economics Foundation that Joe mentioned.
It is essential that the PFG is rural proofed from the outset – shift in the curve will need to be defined by rural/urban area. A 1% improvement may be concentrated in an urban area with no impact in rural areas and it is essential that this data is broken down.
Reference to Social inclusion should be included in the outcomes.
Question was posed about how measures and indicators were selected e.g. under Environment outcome that are other measures that should be included and are more appropriate such as biodiversity and water quality.
View expressed that the shared space indicator might not be that relevant to rural communities as many public facilities/services are already shared but still hidden sectarianism.
Biggest priorities for rural communities were identified as:
- Access to public services – health & education
- Employment and effect of the brain drain on rural areas
- Impact of commuting for work on social capital and volunteering in rural communities
- Poor quality broadband – exacerbating a rural digital divide
- Road network – need for maintenance and improvements – affects access to all services & employment
Outcomes are obviously high level but we need to consider how we can measure impact at SOA level.
Achieving balanced economic development across the region is very important.
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