Using outcomes to improve NI's public services

15-08-2016

By Don Peebles, Head of CIPFA Devolved Government 

The Northern Ireland Executive has signalled that there will be a new approach to planning and delivering public services. But what will that new approach look like? The clue comes in the emergence of a single word in the programme for government: outcomes - and clearly the forward focus will be on the outcomes from public services. 

Planning for outcomes is not new. Wider evidence indicates that traditional arrangements around organisational structures are likely to fall short in the effective scrutiny of how outcomes are delivered across a number of public bodies. This will present a challenge in Northern Ireland over how a more collaborative service delivery is managed and then held accountable. 

If delivering outcomes requires a fundamentally different approach by public bodies, there needs to be an equally fundamental change to supporting governance arrangements that focuses on the interests of NI citizens. Practically this means a full and complete understanding of the drivers and influences on performance beyond the description of the outcome within their sphere of influence.

Inevitably there will be a focus on resources. Public service budgets will need to reflect outcomes planning and this will mean a move away from traditional methods of budgeting towards activities that support long-term delivery of outcomes. Central to this will be a shift towards more preventative spending patterns that deliver future returns.

Resources also need to be aligned so that their purpose is to achieve defined outcomes and not to support individual organisation structures. Over time, traditional sectorial boundaries will be challenged and quite possibly dismantled, to enable a better citizen-focused service alignment around delivery of outcomes.

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Máirtin Ó Muilleoir MLA, Minister, Department of Finance, Northern Ireland Executive will outline the issues associated with this new approach in his ministerial address at the NI annual conference on 11 October 2016. View the programme.