MLAs are worth their salt – the shocking proof!

10 02 2008

By Viktor Twinkie

So, MLAs are to be offered a 16% pay rise (£52k per annum) next week. Alas, the Derek Conway fiasco fired the starter gun on negative stories of public reps pay.

But I’ve got the proof that MLAs, in particular Stephen Moutray and Alban Maginness, are worth their salt. It’s here! Yip, the Northern Ireland Secretariat Review Report.

This report is a review of civil service structure within the Assembly. It’s also a stinging indictment of the Secretariat’s Strategic Management Board (SMB) in general, and its chief executive in particular.

So what did the review uncover?

Well, a litany of catastrophic management errors and poor financial controls. As an assessment of senior management it’s hard to conceive how a more blazingly critical report could have been written.

Among reams of proposed changes are recommendations for the re-organisation of the SMB, restructuring the Clerk’s role and removing the £7 million procurement facility.

The report also found:

  • little evidence of performance measurement or key performance indicators that would enable the Commission to judge how the Secretariat was performing and delivering. [page 20]
  • a surprising lack of recognition of value for money (VFM) and efficiency. [page 28]
  • poor morale and dysfunctional organisation culture issues. While staff at all levels felt loyalty to the Assembly and believed they are providing a high quality service to Members, they articulated a sense of frustration, and exhibited low morale, alongside an appetite for change. [page 49]

The worst of it is here:

Many interviewees pointed to a lack of visibility of senior staff, a failure to take action on feedback and a lack of dynamism or collective enthusiasm. Interviewees observed that some papers provided to SMB were not always acted upon, e.g. the Whitmuir Report, signing off business plans and the communications audit. Significantly and importantly the aggregate effect of such instances has led to a lack of confidence in SMB by staff.

Significant evidence emerged to suggest a lack of corporacy among SMB. Members of SMB themselves described the group as ‘dysfunctional’. Comments referred to: SMB’s lack of collegiality; its failure to ‘live the Values’ it had set for itself; and its failure to embed the values across the organisation.‘In-fighting’ within SMB was repeatedly referred to throughout the interview process by SMB members and other interviewees reflecting a lack of collective responsibility and a culture of individual blame. On occasion, papers which purported to reflect an SMB view were openly challenged by individual SMB members at Commission meetings.

71.2 % of respondents indicated that they had no confidence in the strategic management of the Assembly. (Staff Survey)

Staff references to a ‘black hole’ at SMB suggested to us a reluctance or failure to take responsibility for delivery or lead change. Deficiencies in corporate and business area planning have in our opinion obvious implications for the identification of development needs and skills gaps in achieving corporate objectives. Typical evidence from staff interviews, surveys and focus groups included:

73.7% of respondents to the staff survey indicated that they did not have a clear understanding of the role of the Strategic Management Board.
(Staff Survey)

‘The total absence of leadership and the dysfunctional nature of senior management are demotivating. Senior management add limited value and offer no support.’ (Staff Survey) [page 48]

The SMB had been performing poorly for some years. It had clearly got out of hand.

Clerk Arthur Moir decided to retire last October… in the same month that the review panel sent their conclusions to the Speaker Willie Hay. So the man best-positioned to offer explanation leaves just as public reps get hold of a critical report. Coincidence? Can he brought back by committee to offer some insight as to how things broke down so completely? What about the individual civil servants involved? Such a thorough report demands thorough explanation from leadership figures. Are civil servants struck dumb by retirement? Let the PAC find out…

The new position of Director General (as recommended in the report) is currently being advertised for. Capita is on board to find a new Secretariat chief exec and a new civil service head honcho. Does this say anything of the quality of leadership within the service? After all, Nigel Hamilton was no stranger to controversy (Interim Victims Commissioner?).

MLAs returned in May and this review began a month later. The report’s conclusions are uncompromising and implementation is following up on findings. When our MLAs perform poorly we rightly excoriate them. Equally, when they perform well, they must be praised. So, well done public reps!

As MLAs gain knowledge and understanding of government, and orientate fully into their new roles, they will up their game. Mindsets and objectives will change. The transition from parish NIMBY to regional administrator is slowly taking place.

PS. And well done local media. The Commission hears your pleas, and the report acknowledges the crappy press facilities in Stormont are crappy. Can expulsion from Stormont buildings (perhaps to Ormiston House) be too far away?

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