The Northern Ireland Executive agreed in June 2014 to commission the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to conduct a strategic review of public sector reform in Northern Ireland.

About the OECD Review

The OECD Review was the first ever sub-national public governance review to be conducted by the OECD. The overall aim of the review was to bring forward recommendations to maximise the impact of current reform across the public sector on both the quality of public services for citizens and value for money, as well as identifying further areas for reform.

The review commenced in November 2014 and took a two phase approach:

Phase 1 – a benchmarking analysis of how the public sector measures up against international comparators when assessed against three overarching themes:

  • improving strategic approaches
  • improving operational delivery 
  • improving engagement with people

In Phase 2 the OECD conducted a small number of case studies on specific topics. In choosing case studies, priority was given to those topics that are cross cutting in nature and have the potential to generate the greatest impact. The case studies covered the following areas:

  • review of Public Procurement Governance
  • health Services Commissioning
  • improving Educational Outcomes for Looked After Children
  • problem Solving Justice
  • delivering the Social Change Framework
  • the Better Regulation Strategy
  • the review was launched on 6 July 2016

The comprehensive report highlights the detailed engagement undertaken by the review team which involved meetings with over 300 people, including Ministers and MLAs, officials from the NICS departments, local government, wider public sector, industry, trade unions, academia, and the voluntary and community sector. 

The OECD has provided 30 strategic recommendations on nine reform themes, with these underpinned by a further more detailed 103 sub-recommendations. There are also 25 main recommendations from across six case studies.

The Executive has accepted all but two of the 30 recommendations in the report, which include:

  • prepare and implement a multi-year strategic, outcomes-based Programme for Government
  • ensure the centre of government promotes horizontal co-operation across departments and public agencies to break down institutional silos
  • investing in skills to support innovation
  • enhance Northern Ireland’s international engagement in digital government and innovation
  • strengthen transparency and accountability mechanisms to build trust and to create better outcomes for people

Only two of the main recommendations in the main report were not accepted:

  • the recommendation to ‘Institutionalise the Centre of Government challenge function regarding policy and programme proposals as part of the decision-making process by the Executive’ was deemed to be contrary to the provisions of the Ministerial Code
  • the recommendation to ‘Establish a Better Regulation Unit (BRU) within the Executive Office’ was deemed contrary to the Executive intent of divesting the Executive Office of operational responsibilities and would potentially add another level of bureaucracy

The Executive has a collective commitment to develop a new outcome based Programme for Government; this approach was endorsed by the experts in OECD. The draft Programme for Government broadly mirrors the key themes of the report. This includes maximising the coherence of government through a common set of priorities, working across departmental boundaries and using evidence-based decision making by intervening early to address social problems. Recommendations being progressed have been embedded into PfG delivery plans or departmental business plans and will be reported on through these mechanisms. With this, separate monitoring of the implementation of OECD recommendations has concluded.

A highlight report is also available.


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