'Lack of expertise' within civil service to deliver public sector reform, says DUP interim leader

The MP made the comments in his weekly message to DUP members. Credit: PA

There is a “continued lack of expertise” within the civil service in Northern Ireland to deliver needed public sector reform, DUP interim leader Gavin Robinson has said. Mr Robinson drew attention to comments from senior civil servants reported at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, which he said had been “contemptuous towards elected representatives”. The MP made the comments in his weekly message to DUP members.

Mr Robinson became the unionist party’s interim leader in March following the resignation of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson when he was charged with historical sexual offences. Mr Robinson said improving the lives of people in Northern Ireland required political vision and ambition coupled with “expertise and capacity” from civil servants. He said: “Comments this week from the Covid-19 inquiry are strikingly similar to those made during the RHI inquiry. “Whilst most civil servants are striving to achieve the very best for the public, comment from some senior figures have not only been contemptuous towards elected representatives but highlight a continued lack of expertise within our local civil service to deliver the ambitious reform that schools, roads and hospitals require.”

The Covid-19 Inquiry has been sitting in Belfast while it examines Northern Ireland’s handling of the Covid emergency. The RHI inquiry identified a multiplicity of mistakes in the running of a botched green energy scheme. Mr Robinson added: “I don’t believe that Northern Ireland is lacking in vision or ambition, but too often we have seen a scarcity of expertise within our public sector to make that vision a reality. “We sought to tackle this within the Safeguarding the Union command paper. “That sets out a programme for skills exchange between the NICS (Northern Ireland Civil Service) and the UK Home Civil Service. “Encouraging those secondments and movement across all parts of the UK may sound like a technical or even inconsequential move, but it not only mainstreams Northern Ireland more within the United Kingdom but can deliver real and meaningful benefits for the people living here. “Our objective is to fix the problems and build for the future. “It is clear the NICS does not have the requisite expertise to deliver the radical reform or build the infrastructure needed for the next generation to succeed.” The MP said the DUP would not allow the current situation to drift. He added: “We will be pressing for greater integration within the Home Civil Service and the recruitment of more external experts as senior leaders. “I am in the business of building a better Northern Ireland for everyone living here. “That includes ensuring that we can deliver the kind of public services people here not only expect but deserve.”

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