McGuinness hits out at Robinson over 'solo run'

Peter Robinson Mr Robinson made his comments at an event hosted by the Federation of Small Businesses

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Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has accused First Minister Peter Robinson of going on a solo run by calling for a cut in government departments and the number of MLAs.

Mr Robinson said he wanted to see the number of MLAs reduced from 108 to 75 and mooted a proposal to cut governmental departments from 12 to 8.

Mr McGuinness said the DUP needed to face up to its responsibilities for creating savings.

He also said a debate was needed.

"The fact that they (the DUP) have prevented the establishment of the Education and Skills Authority which would have saved millions of pounds, they also blocked the review of public administration which would have reduced the councils from 26 to 11, which would have saved something like £400m over the course of 20 years," he added.

"So let's have the debate, but let's have a very comprehensive debate around all of these matters."

In an address to the Federation of Small Businesses on Thursday, Mr Robinson said the current situation wasted resources that could be better spent delivering front line services.

"I have asked my DUP colleagues to conduct a thorough review of all the arms length bodies for which their departments have responsibility and ask whether or not they are necessary in their present form, or at all," he said.

"This exercise is under way in Great Britain and I see no reason why we should not conduct a similar analysis.

"Since 2003 my party has advocated a reduction in the political bureaucracy at Stormont.

"The issue of the number of MLAs will likely be reduced through the reduction in the number of parliamentary constituencies to 15 through the coalition government's electoral reform proposals, but in addition to this we would also propose that there should only be five rather than six MLAs per constituency."

'Absolutely critical'

The SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said she was not sure of the motives behind Peter Robinson's proposals.

Ms Ritchie said any move to cut the number of departments must be in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

Ulster Unionist Party Leader Tom Elliott welcomed the First Minister's call for the number of MLAs and government departments to be reduced, but has said that it was time for "action rather than grandstanding".

"The DUP may well have 'advocated' a reduction in the political bureaucracy at Stormont in recent years, but as the biggest party in Northern Ireland they have done precious little to effect change," he said.

"It's certainly good to hear Peter Robinson proposing cuts to the number of MLAs, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to translate into anything meaningful.

"The DUP recently voted against electoral reform in the House of Commons to reduce the number of MPs in the UK, how does this stack up with tonight's announcement?

"I am fully supportive of anything that will streamline government, and in particular of a thorough review of quangos, but I really would have to see any sign of pro activity from the Executive before I take this for anything more than hollow grandstanding and early electioneering."

Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long said that reducing the number of assembly members and government departments "must be considered as part of the process to help deliver savings".

"It has been the view of Alliance for some time that a reduction in the number of MLAs and departments could not only help deliver financial savings, but could also make government function more effectively," she said.

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