No sooner had the new Executive returned than the competency of the public sector burst back onto front pages of the press. This time MOT centres, with lots of questions and not a lot of answers forthcoming on “how? why? and when might it be sorted?” The New Decade has started much the same way as the last one, with public services seeming unable to cope with breakdown that should have been anticipated and better managed in anyone’s book. A search of NI Water on Slugger O’Toole will give anyone an evening of reading, and the clear impression that that saga didn’t just happen out of nowhere.
In the private sector, “heads would roll”.
And between the start of the last decade and the opening of this decade we have had RHI and all the rest. The Public Inquiry into RHI is due to release its report soon, but if the many reports of the Audit Office on the many many items of public sector procurement that have ended over-budget and years late now sit on a shelf and despite identified issues there is no change.
It will take a lot to convince the public that change is going to happen any time soon.
Change may happen more quickly where there is effective accountability. The Assembly is meant to play a part in holding the Executive to account for its policy and process in delivery across Departments. The likelihood of that being effective has to be questioned against the fact that almost one fifth of the current Assembly are ‘co-opted’, replacements for MLAs elected at the last Assembly election and appointed by their respective Parties.
It isn’t good for democracy, and it doesn’t seem to be great for the Party either. With representatives the plaything of a central command, loyalty is expected and not earned. Anyone deviating from the central command is likely to be moved, out. That doesn’t help in finding the best media performers, the best thinkers, the best managers. Most of all, it presumes the electorate will vote the Party no matter who the candidate, whether it is the one the electorate voted for last time or not. The relationship between the electorate and elected is stretched to breaking point.
Sinn Fein is the most prolific in respect of changing elected/appointed representatives. Despite an exceptional, perhaps outlier, 2017 electoral cycle the Sinn Fein vote has been unsteady for a long number of years – the direction is downwards. Taking the electorate for granted is not necessarily working too well.
‘Co-option’ rather than election of a local representative is another factor eating away at the confidence of electorate in Northern Ireland. There has been a very unsteady start to the New Decade perhaps because there is a distinct lack of New Approach and an uneasy feeling that the public is going to be served a cold plate of much the same as before.
Some of these themes and points are commented on in the latest PoliticalOD podcast. Available from Podbean, Spotify and iTunes, direct to your phone. Or have a listen below.