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Programme for Government

Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 15th June 2009.

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Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP 2:30 pm, 15th June 2009

1. asked the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister when it will report to the Assembly on progress against targets set in the Programme for Government.        (AQO 2951/09)

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I would have asked permission to answer questions 1 and 6 together, had the Member who was to ask question 6 arrived in the Chamber on time.

As Members know, the Programme for Government sets out a clear statement of the Executive’s priorities, and we have already delivered significant successes across a range of areas, from investment in infrastructure to the appointment of commissioners and advocates for victims, children and older people, and from reforms in public services to delivering support to local people and businesses in the face of the economic downturn. It is clear that the delivery of the Programme for Government generates real, tangible benefits for the people of Northern Ireland.

On 5 March 2009, the Executive finalised the formal delivery framework for the Programme for Government. Structures and processes have been established across Departments to monitor and report on performance. A key element of the framework is the preparation of delivery reports, which set out progress made against the programme’s key goals, commitments and targets.

On 7 May 2009, the Executive commissioned the preparation of a formal delivery report to show progress as at 31 March 2009. That report is scheduled for consideration at the Executive meeting on 25 June. We hope that it will be made available to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister for consideration before the summer recess. That will mark the first step in a wider consultation on the Programme for Government.

Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP

I thank the First Minister for his answer. However, equally importantly, will he tell the House what structures exist in Departments to monitor their performance?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

As a first step, a lead Minister and a senior official have been assigned to each target and commitment in the Programme for Government. Therefore, a person has been identified as being responsible for answering for each of the key goals. In addition, a small number of those key indicators will be identified to assess whether the delivery of the key goals and commitments is bringing about the real change that the Programme for Government envisaged. That assessment will carry on.

Each Department assesses where it stands on meeting those key goals through a traffic-light system whereby progress is identified as red, amber — an amber/green category has crept in — or green. Therefore, we know whether people are meeting their targets in each Department. Those results will be gathered in a delivery report, which will come to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) and will be monitored by my officials. The Executive, in their periodic meetings, will also look at those reports and I imagine that, at that stage, Committees will wish to examine how their Departments are meeting their targets.

I hope that the requirement for progress to be monitored at every level in each Department, the Executive’s oversight and the pressure exerted by departmental Committees will combine to encourage Departments to meet those targets. At the very least, that scrutiny will allow us to see where we are falling behind and, therefore, where more energy, or even resources, may be required to meet those targets.

Photo of Sue Ramsey Sue Ramsey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. It is useful to get an update on progress that has been made to date on the Programme for Government. Will the Minister tell the House what progress has been made to date on meeting the targets to reduce child poverty?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I am not sure whether I should use the template that we have, because, as my ministerial colleagues know, it was an indicative report that was produced for the Executive, from which we took each of the responsibilities in the Programme for Government and worked them up. However, when the findings were brought to the Executive, some Ministers felt that they had performed slightly better than the targets that appeared in the report. Nevertheless, at least it set us on our way, in that we could begin to determine targets properly.

The deputy First Minister and I have had several meetings with officials and ministerial colleagues on the whole issue of poverty, and we have identified four different methods to measure poverty. In my view, the one that is the most accurate is the absolute measurement, and, on that basis, we are meeting our targets.

Relative indictors require us to consider how we compare with other parts of Europe, so we will be able to provide the Committee with a full range of measurements, using different measuring techniques. However, measurements indicate that Northern Ireland is making progress beyond that which it did in the past. Nevertheless, we still lag behind other parts of Europe, and we all know, especially in these difficult times of an economic recession, that the greatest pressures fall on those who are less well off. Therefore, it is more difficult to meet the targets, and a greater onus is placed on us to ensure that we put in place the necessary steps to enable us to meet them.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

In recent weeks, a number of Ministers have indicated that some of the issues that they bring to the Executive in line with the Programme for Government are being held up there. Indeed, there is some frustration that some issues are not being brought to the Executive table from the First Minister’s office. In broad-brush terms, and using his own red/amber/green scales, how does the First Minister rate the performance of the Executive and his office?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

I use red, white and blue ones.

We all need to be honest about the general issues at stake. When the Member for East Belfast and her colleague the Committee Chairperson came to see the deputy First Minister and me last week, I said that if the deputy First Minister were left on his own in OFMDFM, decisions would be taken much quicker, and if I were left on my own, decisions would be taken much quicker. However, our system of government requires us to go through a process of getting agreement so that we have the highest level of agreement possible on a range of issues. We must face up to the fact that the system is slow, and that is why some of us want to see the system modified and improved.

Bearing in mind the difficult terrain in which we must work, the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is performing very well and getting things done — much better certainly than its predecessor, where a series of collapses and huffs took place. At least we are doing the business, slow though it may be at times. The more that we deal with issues that present a win-win situation for all sections of our community, the faster those issues will make progress.