Robinson wants fewer departments

Peter Robinson Mr Robinson attended an event hosted by the Federation of Small Businesses

First Minister Peter Robinson has called for the number of MLAs and government departments to be reduced after the Assembly Election.

Addressing the Federation of Small Businesses on Thursday, Mr Robinson said he wanted to see the number of MLA's cut from 108 to 75.

He also mooted a proposal to reduce governmental departments from 12 to 8.

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 underway 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 first minister thanked those at the gathering for the "contribution they made to the Northern Ireland economy".

"I know how difficult the present economic climate is but the challenges that we face today are nothing compared to the challenges that forty years of terrorism brought," he continued.

"Small businesses are the engine of the Northern Ireland economy and the role you all play is absolutely critical to our economic progress and recovery."

The SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said she is 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.

"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," Mr Elliott continued.

"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".

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