Wednesday 21 September 2005

Northern Ireland must face the future – Hain

Secretary of State, Peter Hain MP, has said that violence and rioting must be left behind if we are to create a strong and prosperous Northern Ireland. He made the comments during a keynote speech in Belfast today where he set out his agenda for political progress and reform of the public sector.

He said: “Be under no illusions: the recent riots and violence, as well as wasting public money, have shaken an international confidence that was viewing Northern Ireland with increasing optimism. I accept that there are unionists who are deeply suspicious. Even after a statement from the IRA that is unusually clear, they wonder whether it will be carried through in action or whether hopes will be dashed once again. I also want to see the IRA deliver on its promises.

“But today’s five-year-olds, who will be completing their education after 2020, deserve to enter a thriving job market and need to be equipped with the skills that will be demanded in that dynamic economy. It will be no consolation to say to them in 15 years’ time that Government was too preoccupied with past or present political disputes to plan ahead for their economic security and social future.

“Unless we can address these problems we will not be in a position to face that future with the purpose and drive required. So the Government cannot simply ‘mind the shop’ awaiting restoration of devolution, but must take the necessary decisions, however difficult and controversial.”

He also set out the government’s approach to public service reform including rating reform, the introduction of water charges and the implementation of the Review of Public Administration.

On the need for investment and reform, he said:“We need a far more rigorous re-direction of public spending on innovation rather than protection; in skills and education, rather than subsidising economic inactivity; and in infrastructure rather than public sector bureaucracy. We need more investment in education, skills and child care, to ensure we equip our workforce to compete with the best in the world.

We need more investment in health and social care, not only for a decent quality of life – but also to cut the costs associated with ill health and ensure no-one is excluded from the opportunity to work. And more investment in infrastructure – not just our schools and hospitals, but in our transport, energy, water and communications sectors.

”But as well as investment, we must reform – and in some cases that means radical reform - to ensure we have the education and health services fit for the 21st century and making the very best value for money use of public spending.”

On water and rating reform, he said: “But making Northern Ireland a genuinely world class place requires not just more public investment but more public service reform, including engaging with the private sector and a ruthless reduction in bureaucracy, duplication and waste. We must also tackle the hugely wasteful costs of division in this society.

“Although Northern Ireland already has the highest level of per capita public spending of any economic region in the UK, conversely, on locally raised revenue, we are well behind the rest of the UK. Average local household contributions (including water charges) to pay for services in England and Wales this year will be £1275; in Scotland £1205; yet in Northern Ireland only £546. This is simply not sustainable.

“If we want Northern Ireland to be world class, have world class public services – or indeed have even comparable services to England, Scotland and Wales – locally raised contributions must increase. This means increasing rates and introducing water charges from April 2007. But it must be done fairly, and it will be – with protection for those on low incomes. We will require households to pay no more, but no less, than is absolutely vital for the services that they use – in line with households in England, Scotland and Wales.”

On the RPA, he said: “And the conclusions of the Review of Public Administration will take forward the most radical, cost saving changes in structures for local authorities, health and education and other areas of government, including options for reducing quangos. This is not just about better use of tax-payers’ money, but about good governance and effective delivery. By any standards Northern Ireland is over administered. For a population of just over 1.7 million we have 26 Councils, 4 Health Boards, 19 Health Trusts, 5 Education and Library Boards and about 100 other public bodies – far higher than elsewhere in the UK for a population of Northern Ireland’s size.

“There is a real choice for the politicians and people of Northern Ireland here. These reforms will be ambitious. They will challenge the status quo. They will disrupt power bases and vested interests. They will lead to a radical shift of resources from the back room to the frontline. But they are all essential to enabling Northern Ireland to be world class and compete on the world stage and we must complete this programme of reform by 2009. In judging these proposals I urge everyone to put, not their own organisational or institutional self interest, but the interests of Northern Ireland first.”

In conclusion, he said: “Northern Ireland is a great place, with great and talented people. It can be greater still – a great place to visit, a great place to invest in, a great place to do business in, and with great public services. I intend to take the tough decisions, with reform and investment going hand in hand, to equip Northern Ireland for that great and shared future.”

Posted By

Oct 24 2005 10:05


Attached files


Oct 24 2005 10:11

The real text of the speech can be taken from Northern Ireland Office. As can be seen from the text Hain announces an all-out class war and seems to think that we have it good after coming out of a war, highest poverty levels in the UK and lowest wages.

What can we do to resist wholescale privitisation of public services as the local politicians are quite haapy to impose it when in power!


Oct 24 2005 10:17

More can be found out at, as unelected quango set up by the British Government to push this reform agenda. Check out the sectors agenda of the Strategic Investment Board which covers all areas of public service including health and education!

Oct 25 2005 17:18

Rates rise for NI homeowners

Ratepayers in Northern Ireland are to pay £1 extra a week for public services, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain revealed today in the province's budget for next year.

Bytongueress Association


Domestic rates bills are to increase by 19% next year in a bid to raise an additional £20 million in funds for public services for each of the next two years.

They will also increase by 6% in the year 2007-08 as the British government also introduces water charges in the province.

Mr Hain, who announced budget plans for 2006 to 2008 at Belfast`s Science Park, said Northern Ireland needed to bridge the gap between what ratepayers in the province pay compared to council tax bills in England if funds were to be released.

"Income from domestic rates in Northern Ireland is only half the equivalent figure in Great Britain," he said.

"Therefore I propose to increase the domestic regional rate next year by 19%.

"This will represent an increase of around £1 per week in the average domestic rates bill but compared to previous plans will raise an additional £20 million in each of the next two years.

"This will help meet the costs of the new priority funding packages for children and young people, science and skills and the environment and energy.

"While this is a large percentage increase, the amount householders contribute to local public services here will still be much less than 60% of the average for England.

"That gap will need to be revisited in the future if we want to maintain local public services at the same level as elsewhere."

The British government has earmarked £16 billion for total public spending by 2008.

Mr Hain said £45 million would be spent next year and £55 million the following year on new ring-fenced investment in three priority areas.

He pledged:

• £25 million over the next two years to ensure all children in the province can access the best quality care, health and education facilities.

• £15 million to be spent next year and £20 million the year after on tackling youth unemployment and to promote top quality skills training.

• £50 million allocated over the next two years to the research and development of renewable forms of energy aimed to protect the environment.

Mr Hain also said expenditure on health would rise by £450 million by 2007/2008, a 13% increase on this year which will take total expenditure above £3.7 billion by 2007/2008.

"That is a massive increase and will help us to achieve the targets for reductions in waiting lists that (Northern Ireland Office Health Minister) Shaun Woodward announced earlier this year and those targets will now also apply to out-patient waiting lists," Mr Hain said.

"There will also be expanded and enhanced services for dialysis, cancer and cardiac patients, while more elderly people will be able to live safely in the community.

"There will be additional funds for suicide prevention and help for those who wish to stop smoking as a result of our plans to ban smoking in enclosed public places."

The Northern Ireland Secretary also announced an increase in spending on education of £100 million by 2007/2008.

However he said there was a need to tackle the problems of duplication and overcapacity in the system.

Over the next year in the Northern Ireland government departments, there will be a 7.1% rise in expenditure for the Department of Health and the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

However, the Department of Agriculture will during 2006/2007 see its budget fall by 8.1%, the Department of the Environment will have a decrease of 5.4% and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment will witness a 3.7% fall in expenditure.

A total of £47.6 million has been set aside for the Northern Ireland Assembly to cover members` salaries and allowances, even though it is currently in suspension.

Mr Hain also vowed to tackle waste and inefficiency in public services in a bid to release much-needed funds to frontline public services.

"Waste and inefficiency never reduced a hospital waiting list or taught a child with special educational needs," the minister said.

"That is why I will press ahead with the review of public administration as quickly as possible.

"We need to implement radical changes in local government and to health and education structures.

"We need to reduce the number of district councils and quangos.

"I will also stick by the efficiency targets set for the public sector last year and the associated reductions in civil service numbers.

"Indeed the size of these reduction could increase as a consequence of the reductions of 3% and 4% in lower priority programmes."

Mr Hain said tough decisions had to be taken over public sector reform and investment if Northern Ireland was going to be equipped to move towards a better future.

While he said he had not ducked difficult challenges, he hoped Northern Ireland politicians would be able to make such decisions in a future devolved government at Stormont.

"The proposals I have set out for public spending will pose challenges over the next few years," he said.

"My hope and expectation is that a new, devolved administration will be in place well within that timescale, with local ministers taking over responsibility for spending plans and public sector reform."

With the British government due to begin a consultation on the budget proposals, Mr Hain said he was willing to hear other ideas about any changes that could be made.

However, he ruled out anything that would reduce spending in the three priority areas of youth unemployment and skills training, improved health, education and care services for children and research and development into renewable energy.

"If somebody presents me with a very good argument to say actually you ought to be spending more here and less there, we think the 19% increase (in domestic rates) is too great, therefore it should be 10% but in the meantime we have to cut all these programmes, I will listen to that.

"But I will not be impressed with any argument that says reduce your rates `bill and cut provision for children or skills or science or renewable energy.

"That is not an argument that I would find very impressive because that is an argument which keeps for the short term £1-a-week in people`s pockets but jeopardises the future of Northern Ireland.

"If there are constructive, good arguments put and somebody comes up with a better idea then of course I will listen."

Cross community Alliance Party finance spokesperson Seamus Close said the plans to increase the regional rate significantly were grossly unfair.

The Lagan Valley Assembly member countered: "People say we get an easy ride compared with the rest of the UK, but the figures do not show this.

"On average earnings more than £100 per week below those in Great Britain, we already pay more for our fuel, for our food, for our basic necessities, so let`s compare like with like. We are being effectively screwed by the Government.

Former Stormont Health Minister Bairbre de Brun called for a special peace dividend to be allocated to Northern Ireland to tackle decades of infrastructural neglect.

"This has damaged every part of our infrastructure, our roads, schools, hospitals, railways and sewerage," the Sinn Fein MEP said.

"There is also a damming legacy of discrimination, inequality and disadvantage that must be tackled.

"The solution is not to increase the tax burden on people here through water charges and rates increases but for the British Government to accept its responsibility to compensate for this historic under-investment.

"It is time that the British Government recognised their responsibility to address the impact of conflict and of under-funding by successive British administrations."

Former Stormont finance minister Sean Farren described the reduction in funds available for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment as economic madness.

"Economic development is our only effective guarantee against dependency and poverty," the North Antrim SDLP Assembly member said.

"The only way to ensure economic development is to invest in new enterprises, to encourage research and development and to create a more creative entrepreneurial culture.

"Faced with fierce competition from overseas, especially Asia, the imperative has to be not simply maintaining present levels of investment but to increase several fold.

Institute of Directors chairman Dr Michael Maguire welcomed Mr Hain`s desire to cut administration and overhead costs in the public sector and focus money on frontline public services.

"The overarching need in both areas is to slash back the overweight administration," he said.

"The business community has high expectations of the Review of Public Administration, it needs to bite the bullet, or people will be asking why the extra money they are paying is not delivering the value that is expected.

"Mr Hain himself has said that public sector performance here is, in some places, among the worst in the UK. This needs to be addressed."