We welcome the opportunity to clarify the distinction between a private office and a Department. Thirty-one staff are employed in our joint private office, including our private secretaries, special advisers and administrative support as well as a team that handles the large volume of correspondence that we receive.
Our Department has a wide range of functions that have been conferred on it by statute or that have been added by the Assembly from time to time. The Department’s responsibilities go far beyond those of the Prime Minister’s office or that of the Taoiseach. Our Department has a unique role and remit, covering equality and community relations policies and programmes, economic policy and European matters. It also supports the Executive as a whole and, indeed, supports and facilitates the work of the full range of Departments and Ministers. That is clearly shown in relation to the North/South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council, the work of the Executive secretariat, the Economic Policy Unit and the Executive information service.
On 2 September, 417 staff were in post in the Department. Some 383 are directly engaged in the Department’s work, and the remainder are posted to those independent bodies for which the Department is responsible for providing staffing support, such as the Planning Appeals Commission and the International Fund for Ireland. A more detailed summary has been placed in the Assembly Library.
It would appear from the Deputy First Minister’s answer — and I invite him to agree — that the number of staff employed means that the people of Northern Ireland are getting value for money. The staff are targeted, deal effectively and efficiently with their work and are by no means disproportionate to the needs of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
The Chairperson of the Committee of the Centre has called for more resources for the Department. Would the Deputy First Minister like to comment on that?
The Member is correct that the Chairperson of the Committee of the Centre has made the point on several occasions that insufficient resources are being committed to the OFMDFM. He has made that point in relation to e-government and European policy matters. Indeed, the Committee of the Centre observed in a report that more staff and financial resources are necessary.
We must also remember that some people who work in OFMDFM are working on, for example, the review of public administration. Many of those people have been brought in from elsewhere in the public service and will be on our payroll only for the duration of that review.
People misunderstand the comparisons made about OFMDFM, the Taoiseach’s office and Downing Street. A fair comparison might be made between the central co-ordination functions of OFMDFM and the Cabinet Office, which has a staff of more than 2,000. The Equality Unit and a range of other services have to be provided for somewhere in the Government, and the Assembly agreed that they would be assigned to OFMDFM.
The composition of Departments and the distribution of their functions are determined by the Assembly, having been proposed by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. When departmental functions are reviewed, it is conceivable that some responsibilities that are currently in the remit of OFMDFM could be reassigned to other Departments. However, some OFMDFM functions support the Executive as well as the work of Departments and their impact on other bodies such as the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council. The Executive are working not only to support the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister but to facilitate the work of all Ministers and Departments. Some units lend themselves naturally to central office, such as OFMDFM’s role in providing Executive support, while units that deal with other Government work or specialist areas could be considered for reassignment. However, those units and functions will not disappear: many existed before the creation of OFMDFM; some, such as the Equality Unit, are new and required new resources and commitments. Many Members have pointed out that such areas require more finance and additional personnel.
Is the Deputy First Minister aware of panic in the OFMDFM as staff frantically search through the jobs columns of newspapers at the prospect of being out of work by 18 January 2003, as the First Minister yet again gets tough on the IRA? Or have OFMDFM’s employees taken the same cynical view as the rest of the population with regard to another deadline — yet again given before an election — which is never carried through? That deadline will go the same way as the deadlines given before the Assembly elections, the local council elections and the Westminster elections.
The staff of OFMDFM and the relevant pay and rations bill, involves many civil servants. The Member refers to a budget of £13 million and suggests that it is connected to cronies of either the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister. That suggestion is entirely misplaced. The majority of jobs in OFMDFM existed before the establishment of that Department; it was a matter of which Department those jobs would be located in. The setting up of the Executive, new structures and equality responsibilities meant that new jobs had to be created, which had to be assigned somewhere. There is an argument for a dedicated Equality Unit, which would require many staff. The issue should be treated fairly. Today in OFMDFM people were reading the excellent newspaper coverage of the fantastic success of the Derry minor team and the Armagh senior team rather than panicking and searching frantically for new jobs.