Northern Ireland’s new Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, has been showing off the grasp of economics which he acquired teaching the subject at Grosvenor High School. Let’s not forget that he was head of department and helped to set some exams.
The East Antrim MP has repeated the DUP’s occasional mantra of ‘Tory cuts’ which, whilst it is echoes a theme developed by Labour leader Gordon Brown, does not quite share the Prime Minister’s intellectual disingenuousness. He is simply lying about his intentions for the economy but the DUP neither knows nor cares about the national picture, as long as Northern Ireland retains the same sized slice of a diminishing pie.
None of which is new or particularly surprising, but Sammy has accompanied his pre-empting of Conservative policy with some ludicrous claims, wonky sums and awe-inspiring ignorance.
Wilson demonstrates his wobbly grasp of Tory pledges by claiming that George Osborne has promised to ‘ring fence’ spending on health and education. His contention is simply wrong. The Conservatives have promised to protect health spending and the international development budget but the shadow chancellor has pointedly refused to treat education in the same way. Wilson might have avoided this error by watching last night’s ten o’clock news!
But it comprises an unimportant detail when one examines the core of Sammy’s argument, which is that, with health and education commanding 75% of Northern Ireland’s budget, the remaining departments must find cuts amounting to 40% of their combined spending. You’d hate to be the one to break it to him, but determining Northern Ireland’s budget is his responsibility!
I made fun of Wilson’s appointment, but who could have anticipated that it would be quite as bad as this! Our new Finance Minister clearly doesn’t understand the basic mechanisms by which devolution is funded. We receive a block grant and it is the Executive’s responsibility to determine how it is spent! Health and education is not an exception.