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Northern Ireland 'needs more digital' in public services



Draft on future of the region’s government highlights the need for more online and shared services

Northern Ireland needs to beef up the digital element in its public services, with more online self-service and an effort to assist those who cannot use the channels, according a draft document on the future of its government.

The Programme for Government Consultation Document, published at the end of last week, emphasises the importance of digital technology in cutting manual processes and raising the standards of public services.

While it delivers a number of familiar arguments in favour of investing in digital, it indicates that this is likely to be a significant element of the spending intentions for the Northern Ireland Executive in the next few years.

The document acknowledges some issues that have be addressed, such increasing ‘assisted digital’ arrangements for people who cannot use online channels, and overcoming a reluctance in government to share data and move to digital signatures.

“We also need to continue to build trust with respect to holding and sharing citizen information,” it adds.

Monitor usage

Looking to the long term, it says progress should be monitored using an indicator on the use of online channels. This will require some setting up as the relevant data is not currently collected.

Specific proposals include:

  • A programme of digital transformation projects.
  • Further development of the citizen self-service portal.
  • Supporting initiatives such as GoON NI to increase people’s ability to use online services.
  • Centralising management of public sector office accommodation.
  • Building up shared services across the public sector.

The last plan points back to a commitment for more shared services in the Stormont House Agreement. The document says that, while they have already provided considerable savings, there is a need for more to cut down on in duplication in the support functions of government.

The move would also support the effort to reduce the need for office space leased by central government, with the aim of saving £54.3 million in annual lease costs by 2022.

Central-local link

Alastair Ross, junior minister in the Executive Office of the Northern Ireland Assembly, emphasised the importance of it working closely with local government in putting the programme into practice.

Speaking at the opening of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives Northern Ireland conference, he said: “The Programme for Government is designed to bring about transformational change in those things that really matter. Through the programme we aim to achieve wellbeing with a focus on tackling disadvantage and driving economic growth. It has the potential to tackle some of our seemingly intractable issues.

“We cannot make these changes in isolation and recognise that the Executive and local government must work in partnership. We all have a role to play and I am confident that council led programmes will be integral in delivering the best possible outcomes for Northern Ireland.”

The draft is up for consultation until 23 December.


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