Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit

Finance and Personnel – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 am on 23rd June 2008.

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Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 3:30 am, 23rd June 2008

3. asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel for an update on the latest developments in the performance and efficiency delivery unit.        (AQO 4090/08)

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

As previously indicated, the initial focus of the performance and efficiency delivery unit (PEDU) was on the planning process and rate arrears. PEDU staff met those in charge of the Planning Service and have been analysing and assessing detailed information on their processing times for planning applications. PEDU staff also met those in charge of Land and Property Services, and they are currently examining performance information on rate arrears and the method used to set the agency’s cash collection targets for rate revenue.

More widely, my Department, in consultation with PEDU, requested delivery plans for the schemes being supported through the innovation fund. PEDU’s main role was to produce guidance on delivery plans and, in due course, it will assess those plans to gauge whether each scheme has robust delivery arrangements in place.

PEDU continues to lead my Department’s work on the establishment of a robust performance management and monitoring system to drive the delivery of the commitments and targets to which the Department signed up when it secured funding from the Budget.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I welcome the Minister to his first Question Time in the capacity of Minister of Finance and Personnel; an occasion that seems to have escaped the attention of other Members in the House.

I am a firm believer that PEDU can make a positive contribution. However, will the Minister offer some assurance that PEDU’s work will not lead to cuts in jobs and particularly in front-line services?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

I am grateful to the honourable Member for his comments. I assure him that PEDU’s role is not to remove funding from the front line but to ensure that, through efficiency and the proper targeting of resources, additional funding can be released for front-line services. Efficiency savings must be genuine and achieved by using fewer resources to deliver the same, or even additional, outputs. I will not stand for cuts in services being dressed up as genuine efficiencies; nor would anyone in the House condone that. PEDU aims to reduce bureaucracy and costs, not services. It is in the interest of every Member, Department and the public services generally to ensure that PEDU is able to work effectively in close co-operation with departmental officials.

Photo of Paul Maskey Paul Maskey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I also congratulate the Minister on the first Question Time in his new role. Given the recent underspend by all Departments and the non-delivery of several PSA targets, including one of the Department of Finance and Personnel’s targets, will the Minister detail how DFP can become more involved with PEDU to ensure that services are delivered, the departmental spend is more efficient and targets are met? Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

I am grateful to the Member for his comments. His question goes to the heart of PEDU’s role. Going by the gist of his question, the Member shares the Department’s aim that PEDU should be concerned with ensuring that Departments deliver the PSAs and objectives that are set out in the Programme for Government. It is one thing to secure funding from the Budget for Departments, all of which request resources to enable them to implement particular programmes and objectives. After the money has been allocated, the objectives set and the agreements entered into, Departments must ensure that they deliver. There must be a commitment to, and a focus on, delivery, and on the most effective and efficient use of resources.

The aim is not to make cuts but to ensure that the hard-pressed taxpayers, ratepayers and others in Northern Ireland who contribute so much to public services receive the services that they deserve. That should happen with a minimum of red tape and bureaucracy but with the level of support and administration required to deliver a first-class, even world-class, service.

That is what we in Northern Ireland must be about, and I am determined that, in working in collaboration with other Departments, that will be the true aim of PEDU.

Photo of David Burnside David Burnside UUP 3:45 am, 23rd June 2008

I also congratulate the Minister on his promotion. Performance efficiency units sound very well, but we must judge them on how they deliver results. How much discretion does the Finance Minister have to, for example, send the performance efficiency unit into a chosen Department to evaluate, qualify and quantify the performance of its Minister, permanent civil servants and consultants? Could that unit be sent to, for example, the Department of Education, which, by any performance and efficiency criteria is the worst-run Department by any Minister of any operational Department since the formation of the present Executive?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

I am grateful to the honourable Member for his best wishes. He raised the issue of discretion with regard to what we can do where specific Departments are concerned. I am always willing to hear of any areas in which Members think that the resources of PEDU can be best utilised. It is getting up and running, and it will take time to get to full speed. I stress that PEDU has no different remit to that of the Department of Finance and Personnel. My Department, as well as PEDU, is charged with ensuring that value for money is secured for the taxpayer, to which the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending is central. However, having a single unit that is dedicated to focusing on a particular issue is extremely helpful to the Executive and the Assembly.

I assure the Member and the House absolutely that, in so far as the Department of Education is concerned — or, indeed, any other Department — I, along with colleagues, will scrutinise carefully all expenditure to ensure that there is minimum waste and that there is no diversion of resources from the key goals that were outlined in the Programme for Government.