Northern Ireland

Urgent need to transform public services in NI, top civil servant tells MLAs

Jayne Brady said the need for sustainable services in the region was matched by a need for sustainable finances.

Jayne Brady, head of the Northern Irish civil service
Stormont Assembly Jayne Brady, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, speaks to the media at Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast. Picture date: Wednesday June 21, 2023. (Niall Carson/PA)

There is an urgent need to transform public services in Northern Ireland, the head of the civil service has said.

Jayne Brady said the requirement for sustainable services in the region was matched by a need for sustainable finances, during an appearance before the Committee of the Executive Office.

Ms Brady was briefing MLAs on challenges facing the powersharing Executive, which has recently returned following two years of political deadlock.

She said the region is facing a number of challenges including health inequalities, climate change and low economic productivity.

The Stormont powersharing Executive has returned after two years of deadlock
Stormont The Stormont powersharing Executive has returned after two years of deadlock

Ms Brady said: “As MLAs will be only too well aware, our citizens and staff are reeling from a cost-of-living crisis and many of our public services are stretched to the point where they cannot safely meet the needs and legitimate expectations of our fellow citizens.

“As we emerge from a period of no Executive, we have a two-year backlog of strategic decisions and an urgent need to restart the transformation of public services that is necessary for effective outcomes and sustainability.

“That need for sustainable services is matched by a need for sustainable finances within Northern Ireland, uniquely presently funded below the objectively measured level of need.”

Ms Brady said the “one and only” advantage of having no Executive for two years was that civil servants had a “uniquely long opportunity” to brief political parties for the return of the Assembly.

She said: “We took this role very seriously, providing the best advice we had to the parties entitled to form an Executive to ensure that when the Executive was restored they were as informed as possible.

“So, while the challenges are profound, I believe that the new Executive is well informed and as prepared for the task at hand as it can be.”

She added: “The Executive is hitting the ground running and is already setting a clear direction as it works out priorities and objectives for the remainder of the mandate.

“The budget for this year and next and the programme for government are works in progress.

“However, ministers have already made clear their priorities of stabilising public services, arresting the decline and working towards recovery, transforming those services to make them sustainable to deliver better outcomes and resetting our public finances.”

MLA Claire Sugden asked how it was possible to stabilise public services while also transforming them.

Ms Brady referred to the crisis in hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland, the worst in the UK.

She said: “Waiting lists, while really important to get to an acceptable level, the issue is getting upstream of that.

“How do you get upstream of waiting lists? That is multi-disciplinary teams and it’s healthcare, social care settings to keep people at home, to stop people getting into that area.

“But also further upstream of that is long term, 10, 20 years, structural things.

“Putting more money in people’s pockets, intervening earlier so they do not end up in those demographics where your life expectancy is predicted by where you live or what your economic boundary is.”