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Public Accounts Committee Reports

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:30 pm on 29th September 2009.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:30 pm, 29th September 2009

I agree absolutely. That is not contrary to the point that I am making.

In targeting a subject to investigate, the three “Es” should be considered. The example that the Member has given refers to the effective use of public money. Reports should be seeking to draw that out, but, sometimes, they focus on the processes. The way in which the invest­igations and reports are structured leads people towards making sure that they have ticked the right boxes in order to show that they have dealt with the process as laid down, rather than make effective use of resources. If the latter is the direction that the Committee is taking, and the objective that it has, it should continue to undertake that role.

I will deal quickly with the points that Members have made. First, Mr Wells and Mr Beggs referred to the report on managing sickness absence. Mr Wells made his point in a humorous, but very telling, way. Why are workers in certain Departments and certain parts of the public sector most prone to illnesses on Friday afternoons and Mondays? Why are there higher rates of absence in the public sector than in the private sector? Why are there huge differences in absences rates between people who receive monthly salaries and those who are paid on the basis of turning up for work?

We need to address the matter for two reasons. First, we want to make more efficient use of our resources. Secondly, it is bad for the morale of people who do not take time off to regularly have to cover for those who do. I am pleased that the average level of absence, which was 12·9 days in 2007-08, reduced to 10·9 days in 2008-09. That is still below our target of 9·7 days, but some progress has been made.