Wilson urges ‘more services for less’

2 Oct 09
Public bodies must learn to achieve more for less, Northern Ireland’s finance minister Sammy Wilson has warned
By Paul Gosling

2 October 2009

Public bodies must learn to achieve more for less, Northern Ireland’s finance minister Sammy Wilson has warned.

 ‘I have no doubt that we are entering a period of austerity,’ Wilson told CIPFA’s Northern Ireland conference on September 24. ‘The tightening of Treasury purse strings will have an effect on Northern Ireland.’ 

He explained that this was because of its ‘dependence on the public sector, with two-thirds of local gross value added being spent on the public sector’.

‘We need to grow the private sector,’ he added. ‘It’s not that the public sector is too large. It’s roughly the same level as in other UK regions. The fundamental problem is that our private sector is too small.’

As a result  the priority in Northern Ireland was spending that would boost private sector employment, investment and productivity, he added. This included support for transport, telecommunications, energy and tourism infrastructure.

But this meant that costs would have to be cut in public services. ‘We want unnecessary costs to be taken out,’ he said. ‘We want to deliver more for less. We have reduced the number of people working in the civil service by 2,300, but still deliver the services. Cuts and reductions do not mean that services must be adversely impacted.  I can assure you that the public sector is changing to make it more responsive.

‘The Executive will not be able to rely on additional funding from the Exchequer in the forthcoming period. Achieving value for money will be the key. We must be innovative.

‘The accountancy profession within the public sector has a crucial role and is at the coal face in delivering more for less.’

Wilson told the conference that it might be necessary to close schools as part of the administration’s cost savings.

Speaking to Public Finance after his speech, he said that the question of introducing water charges was something the Executive would ‘have to face’.

In the days before the conference, a leaked memo from Wilson revealed that he had told fellow ministers that cuts of £370m were required to balance the Executive’s budget.

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