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Public Accounts Committee Reports

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 29th September 2009.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:15 pm, 29th September 2009

Perhaps the Member has missed the point. The importance that the Audit Office has sometimes placed on process has led to the introduction of caution in decision-making, which is not always the best way of using resources effectively.

I am going to develop that point. When the Assembly examines the use of public resources, we use the three “Es” — efficiency, effectiveness and economy. Those should form the central premise that we employ when we consider how resources are used. The process is, of course, important, and the proper procedures must be adhered to. However, I sometimes fear that reports which, by their very nature, concentrate on process and governance either put less emphasis on, or ignore, the principles of efficiency, effectiveness and economy. Perhaps we should ask whether all the scrutiny by the Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, and, indeed, my Department, improves performance and ensures that public money is well spent.

I will throw out a challenge to the PAC. Since devolution, that Committee has been very active and has produced a large number of reports. However, does the Committee recognise that it has made over 450 recommendations? I am happy to take interventions from its members about this matter.

Has the Committee thought about the systems and bureaucracy that have sprung up to monitor recommend­ations and to ensure that they have been followed up? Sometimes, the Assembly takes decisions for the best of reasons, but implementation requires the use of departmental resources, whether through manpower, time or capital. We must bear that in mind.

In preparing for the debate, another issue struck me, which was how long ago some of the events addressed in the reports occurred. Some Members referred to that. For example, Mr Dallat mentioned the review of financial management in FE colleges, which goes back to 1998. I do not want to get into the semantics of whether it is in our remit to examine issues that occurred before the Assembly was set up, but the report deals with issues that arose in the early years of this decade. Mr Beggs referred to a PFI contract that was signed in March 2001. The report on the New Deal 25+ that the Committee will consider next month goes back to 1998. The system has learned lessons and has moved on.