Many of us knew little about the DUP until Friday morning, but now it looks as if they will be instrumental in forming a functioning government. Now is a timely opportunity to examine what the DUP’s manifesto means for Local Government in Northern Ireland, and therefore, what ideas it might have if the party gains influence on local government here.
COUNCIL FUNDING AND LOCAL GROWTH
- Expand Shared Services, towards amalgamating the work of Enterprise Shared Services and the Business Services Organisation (which operates within Health and Social Care) with the aim of having one shared service organisation providing HR, IT, Network, Records and other services as soon as existing contracts permit.
- Devolve to Councils the power and ability to lower business rates in their Council area by up to 3%. They aim to enhance the Small Business Rates Relief Scheme and maintain Industrial Derating.
- Examine the scope for the introduction of a Town Centre Regeneration Challenge Fund which local Councils, Chambers of Trade and others to bid annually for a range of projects in their towns or high streets to improve their social and physical infrastructure.
- Develop a Greenway Network across Northern Ireland that provides traffic free space for walkers and cyclists for both leisure and commuting. This presents an opportunity for partnership work and funding between the new Department of Infrastructure and the newly created 11 councils to develop such projects across Northern Ireland.
COUNCILS AS EMPLOYERS AND COMMISSIONERS
- During last parliament, DUP reduced the number of Councils from 26 to 11, and reduced the number of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) per constituency from 6 to 5.
- The DUP now wants a structured, long term, cross-government National Reform Plan for Northern Ireland including measurable targets and agreed implementation dates. This could include: alternative models of service delivery such as increasing the use of social enterprises; a Civil Service Reform Plan; a more digital government; expanding shared services provision; and a dedicated Change Fund to stimulate reform.
- Establish a What Works Centre, to enable policy makers, commissioners and practitioners to make decisions based upon strong evidence of what works and to provide cost-efficient, useful services.
- Experiment with alternative models of service delivery, such as Mutualisation and Payment by Results contracts, which are aimed at producing better outcomes for citizens. The DUP proposes that the Executive agrees to examine these options further with a view to commencing pilots by no later than 2017/2018.
- Building 8,000 social and affordable housing units by 2020.
- Transform the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) to a strategic housing body. This should include the transfer of its stock to fully utilise assets to make social housing more self-financing. In addition, the NIHE would receive powers to tackle the issue of empty homes.
- The DUP aims to improve standards in the private landlord sector. It wants to introduce a bulk-renting scheme from combines of private landlord properties. In return for a guarantee of income the properties entered into the scheme must be equipped and maintained to higher standards.
- Focus on reducing homelessness by co-ordinating public agencies to provide the breadth and depth of support these people need.
- As part of restoration of devolution, the DUP want to implement the health and social care reforms started from the previous parliament, which focused on a new model for care, reducing bureaucracy and streamlining structures.
- They have pledged to invest in the transformation of Health and Social Care services by ensuring that a Transformation Fund of at least £30 million remains in place for each year of the next Assembly term.
- Establish a Commission on Adult Care and Support to provide expert, independent analysis of the challenges facing the system and to think radically about what changes must be made to safeguard it for future generations. The Commission on Adult Care and Support will be tasked with producing a set of recommendations to reform the system and its funding structures to ensure its future sustainability. There will be attention paid to ‘best practice’ examples from around the world, including in the Netherlands and Italy.
- Develop a new Electronic Health and Care Record for Northern Ireland to help improve the delivery of health and social care for patients. This would provide accurate, up-to-date and complete information about patients at every point of care, reduce discharge delays and enable safer and more reliable prescribing of medication as well as increase the time that doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers spend with patients – allowing the use of data analytics to improve population health and care planning and it will help our Health and Social Care system to become ‘paperless.’
- Examine ways to support carers who are facing financial difficulties by looking at ideas such as a scheme for carers to provide free public transport and a Rate Relief Scheme for carers.
- Increase the maximum period of imprisonment for offences involving violence or neglect directed against the elderly or vulnerable.
YOUNG PEOPLE AND EDUCATION
- That the Northern Ireland Industrial Strategy is aligned to the wider UK Industrial Strategy and is centred on ‘enhancing education, skills and employability’ (as 1 point of 5)
- Fight at Westminster for a Budget settlement that allows for real terms increases in health and education spending over the next parliamentary term and will prioritise these areas in future Northern Ireland Budgets.
- Aim for sufficient resources to be provided for frontline schools’ budgets, and for greater autonomy in decision making for schools. They support academic selection, the maintenance of the Dickson Plan, and greater value being placed on vocational qualifications. The DUP will focus on tackling educational underachievement through support for early years interventions, expanded childcare strategy and community based initiatives. They support equality of treatment for all education sectors, including removal of discrimination in teacher employment, as well as increased shared education across all education sectors.
- Support higher and further education continuing to attract international expertise and collaboration
- Increased autonomy for schools by empowering school Principals and Governors to challenge the Department of Education, by giving control over budgets and resources to schools. The DUP will also restore a portable, accountable and open market in exam qualifications for schools.
- Improve digital skills in schools. This will also require the development of new qualifications to demonstrate job skills and meet future business needs.
- Early diagnosis and intervention for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND), as part of developing a 0-3 strategy and the SEND Act 2016
- Education equality for all school sectors including special needs schools. This includes tackling the preferential treatment of Irish Medium in school build, the abolition of the Catholic Teacher Training Certificate, an end to the Article 71 exemption for teaching from Fair Employment as well as a better funding formula for schools.
- To implement the £500m Fresh Start Agreement Investment from the Treasury and supporting the Shared Education Bill.
- New Childcare Strategy to improve access and affordability of childcare, to establish 44,000 affordable places. They also support greater flexibility in the starting age for children commencing nursery and primary education.
Whilst devolution means that the DUP will have no direct impact on English local government, at a policy level there may be space for influence.
It is a fair assumption that English local government will not be the focus of DUP asks during negotiations, and the resulting agreement with the Conservatives, it is worthwhile reviewing what the party’s views on the issues are, as their influence grows.
There are areas both of common ground and tension. Digitalisation, greater autonomy for schools and a focus on building houses, for example, aligns with existing Tory policy, though major civil service reform and the merging of most local councils to reduce the number by 60%, does not.
There could be an opportunity here, however, as the Tory and DUP’s different approaches to local government could allow them to learn from each other, and to apply best practices to both England and Northern Ireland. Examining how to apply the most successful programmes of Adult Social Care from around the world, a focus on reducing homelessness and a greater flexibility in what age child start nursery and school, for example, could be tested and implemented nationwide, if proven to be a success. The DUP also aims to reduce austerity measures, which may create some political space to debate an easing in national level austerity policy.
It still remains to be seen, though, what the Conservative and DUP relationship will look like in reality, once the dust from the election has settled, but it is not necessarily all doom and gloom for local government.