Preparing for the 2016 Programme for Government

NICVA held a conference for the sector on Preparing for the 2016 Programme for Government which saw speakers address delegates on new ways of governance and the context for the next Programme for Government.

Marie Cavanagh, Director of Gingerbread NI and Chair of NICVA’s committee welcomed delegates and set the positive tone of the conference, in spite of the current political context.

NICVA Chief Executive Seamus McAleavey provided the economic context of the next Programme for Government setting out the contrast between the last and next Comprehensive Spending Review and the difficult financial circumstances the sector is in. Seamus echoed Marie by stating that the Voluntary and Community sector are optimists who innovate, problem solve and build consensus.

Next the conference heard from Derek Baker, DEL Permanent Secretary and Chair of the governmental working group tasked with managing the departmental restructure from twelve to nine departments; ‘one of the less controversial elements’ of the Stormont House Agreement. Derek talked delegates through the process and details of the restructure and the thirteen subgroups that are required to make it happen – more details of which are available here.  This was the second time NICVA welcomed Derek to address the sector on the restructure following a DEL Departmental Monitoring Group meeting in June. Derek reflected on how the culture of the new civil service was paramount to its success of doing things differently and expressed confidence that the civil service was optimistic about the new possibilities. Derek also expressed a commitment within the civil service of working in a more outcome focused way with an emphasis on citizen’s wellbeing. Derek announced to delegates that the lead department for children and young people (to encompass the Children and Young People’s Strategy, the Childcare Strategy etc) will be the Department of Education. As these changes are considered by politicians as a machinery of government issue and not policy, they will not be consulted on but will be governed by two pieces of legislation that will require committee scrutiny.

Update: Both pieces of legislation (the 'Departments Bill' and the 'Transfer of Functions' Bill) will be the responsibility of the First Minister and deputy First Minister as OFMFDM is responsible for “machinery of government” issues.  Both pieces of legislation are likely therefore to be scrutinised by the OFMDFM Committee of the Assembly.  The Departments Bill, as a piece of primary legislation, will go through the full legislative Assembly process, whilst the Transfer of Functions Order is a piece of subordinate legislation and will be subject to what is known as Affirmative Resolution in the Assembly – so there will be an opportunity for debate on it in the Assembly (although it would not go through all the other stages to which primary legislation would be subjected).  It is entirely possible that the OFMDFM Committee might invite other Assembly Committees for a view on the draft legislation in view of the impact it will have on other Departments, but that will be a matter for the Committee to decide.  It is common for a Committee to invite other Committees for an opinion on something that impacts on other Committees’ areas of interest.

John Woods, Associate at the Carnegie Trust, provided delegates with a presentation on the Carnegie has undertaken which focuses on an outcome based model and a wellbeing framework. John told delegates that there was a need for a new narrative in government that moved away from the focus on GDP and was based on the wellbeing of citizens. The work that Carnegie had carried out focused on new ways of work which included the role of the Programme for Government in promoting an outcomes focus, strategic integration of objectives and the work of departments, budgeting for outcomes to include cross departmental budgeting, investment in prevention and early intervention, co-production to include engagement between departments and between government and citizens, and assets based approaches to wellbeing. For more information on the Carnegie Wellbeing work, click here to view the report from the Northern Ireland Roundtable.

Majella McCloskey, Senior Manager at the Centre for Effective Services, provided delegates with a presentation on the CES report ‘Implementing Whole of Government Approaches’. Majella informed delegates that a whole of government approach was necessary in order to enhance co-ordination and integration; align incentives, structures and cultures of authority; and to generate outcomes that cannot be achieved by units working in isolation. There were particular instances when a whole of government approach was necessary and CES, within their report, have compiled a way in which policy makers can determine whether a certain instance requires it. Majella told delegates about particular international models of best practice that spanned service provision, a policy focus and government structural arrangements but all had an outcome approach at the heart. The report also details the challenges of the approach including cost, time and difficulties in measuring outcomes.

Marie then chaired a panel discussion with all three speakers and also welcomed Joe Reynolds, Head of the Programme for Government team in OFMdFM. Marie first asked Joe to respond to what he had heard and to detail the Programme for Government process the team will be following. Joe assured delegates that the team were committed to an outcomes focus and informed delegates of the challenging timescales in which the team were operating (as laid out in the Stormont House Agreement, the political parties have two weeks to agree to a Programme for Government before Ministers were assigned.) Questions from the floor centred on avoiding departmental silos, co-design and co-production, children’s services and what department would have overarching responsibility, open data, and the timing of the Programme for Government. Derek Baker revealed to delegates that cross departmental working would be in the spirit of government and the culture of the new departments and not a statutory obligation.

NICVA’s Head of Public Affairs Lisa McElherron provided delegates with a presentation on the support NICVA was providing the sector with in developing their own manifestos and the work that NICVA was undertaking in developing a manifesto for the Voluntary and Community Sector as a whole. The aim of the NICVA Manifesto was to set up a robust, doable and realistic alternative to austerity that will have positive outcomes for all of NI especially the most vulnerable. The Manifesto will be as relevant for the Programme for Government as it will be for election pledges. The policy asks are being developed through consultation with organisations; through the use of policy hacks for particularly complex policy issues; the departmental monitoring groups that mirrored the structures of government; and the research developed by the Centre for Economic Empowerment. The NICVA Manifesto will be completely costed and underpinned by a number of low cost and no cost ideas that will make an impact. Perhaps the most controversial element of the manifesto will be a series of revenue raising options that will be provided as discussion points for funding the costed ideas contained within it.

In order to inform the first chapter of the Manifesto which will set out key principles our sector thinks should apply to government in Northern Ireland, we hosted a ‘mini-hack’ where we split the room in two and asked all roundtables to firstly discuss the main issues preventing government from being effective. After the primary issues had been identified, we then asked groups to focus on the solutions to those issues and vote collectively on their top four. Once all the groups had provided their four in a group feedback session, we asked individuals to vote for their top four in their half of the room. In the end we had nine solutions that had been democratically arrived at by attendees that will be included in our manifesto. These were: cross departmental collaboration; Assembly reform (petitions of concern use, an opposition and the appointment of SpADs); centralised budgeting; a civic forum; an inclusive and participative democracy; shared standard principles of evidence based policy making; a Bill of Rights; collective Executive responsibility; and increased transparency.

For more information on the content of the conference, see the attached reports. For more information on many of the issues covered by the conference, you can become a member of the Open Government Network NI, join the mailing list or follow them on Twitter.



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