148.The Northern Ireland Audit Office plays an important role in scrutinising whether spending by NI departments and agencies has used their resources effectively and efficiently, and to make recommendations for how to improve performance in achieving value for money and implementing policy.
149.The Northern Ireland Audit Office told us that their work programme was usually based on the objectives for the Northern Ireland Executive, and then refined with input from the Northern Ireland Assembly:
How we put our programme together, we start off with a programme for Government and we have a balanced programme across Government objectives. […]
If we had an Assembly, the views of Assembly members would feed into that process and feed into the process of prioritisation.
150.An explicit indicator in the draft Programme for Government 2016–2021 was to “reduce poverty”, measured primarily by the percentage of the population in relative and absolute poverty before housing costs. One of the Outcomes in the draft Programme for Government was to “enjoy long, healthy, active lives” which included a commitment to address “issues related to deprivation and poverty that are linked to poor health outcomes.”
151.We asked the Northern Ireland Audit Office about their role in looking at poverty in Northern Ireland. The NIAO told us that measuring poverty would be the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Statistical Research Agency, but the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland also acknowledged that poverty in Northern Ireland represented a “policy gap” that the NIAO could look at:
I suppose the starting point is from the programme of Government objectives, so if there is an area where there is a policy gap, we can have a role in drawing that out where maybe there is not sufficient policy formulation. There is nothing stopping us getting into that territory. […]
[Poverty] is a gap, yes, because there has been a lot of public debate about the absence of a poverty strategy, but our normal starting point is that we take a Government strategy and see how it has been implemented.
152.The Northern Ireland Audit Office has an important role to play in reporting on the implementation of Executive objectives. In the absence of an Assembly, this scrutiny is more important than ever. Addressing poverty and deprivation is a clear and explicit objective from the 2016 draft Programme for Government. The implementation of measures to achieve this deserves urgent scrutiny by the NIAO.
153.We recommend that the Northern Ireland Audit Office urgently prioritise work on the effectiveness of measures to reduce poverty in Northern Ireland, and whether there is a “policy gap” in addressing poverty in NI. As part of this, it should report on the broader context, including the main drivers of poverty in NI.
164 Northern Ireland Executive, , pp75–77
165 Northern Ireland Executive, , p23
Published: 9 September 2019