Sunday, 27 September 2009

Water waste of money! What is the Conservatives and Unionists position on water charges?

Some weeks ago O’Neill asked whether the Conservatives and Unionists have a policy on the Irish language. I suppose that the Ulster Unionists, as the wing of the pact involved in Assembly politics, should do some thinking in this regard.

I want to pose an even more fundamental policy question. What is the Conservative and Unionist policy on water charges?

If we examine the UUP’s latest press release on the issue, Fred Cobain suggests that Northern Ireland is ‘teetering on the brink of a punitive water tax’. It is contended that ’an open and honest debate’ might have avoided the executive’s current budget difficulties. The insinuation is that earlier action on water rates would have ensued.

I dare say that had the DUP Finance Minister admitted the extent of the black hole in Northern Ireland’s finances, some preventative forward planning might have been possible. But let’s be honest. It has been perfectly evident for some time that the money for deferred water charges would cause a shortfall.

However, the UUP’s language, ‘punitive’ and so forth, certainly suggests that it is opposed to introducing charges. Tom Elliot is another representative who has spoken out against its implementation, predictably on behalf of farmers (should the poor mites have to pay for anything?).

Is it particularly consistent to point out the problem which deferral creates yet continue to advocate deferral? Perhaps, if the party can identify other areas where the money could be saved. I doubt that it will be campaigning for a slash in health spending or cutbacks in the department of employment and learning.

I suspect, given that the Conservative Party emphasises the principles of sound money and balanced budgets, nationally, its favoured approach would be a gradual imposition of the charge. Perhaps a local Conservative might offer a view. Do the local Tories have a policy on water charges?

As to the Conservatives' partners, perhaps I’ve missed something and the UUP has articulated a meticulously logical strategy on this issue. Otherwise there’s a distinct hint of inconsistency and a whiff of reactive politics about its position.

Deferring charges was a short-termist policy, designed to give a young executive a populist boost. The UUP, to its credit, identified that the sums were not adding up. It hasn’t yet followed its logic through and developed a consistent response.


Anonymous said...

The Conservatives position at the last Assembly election was that there should be water charges, it is unlikely to have changed.

Kevinho said...

Sorry to come late to this, but are you telling us that water is free in NI? That's nuts. Over here we pay about £300-400 a year for water, and companies are allowed to increase bills by RPI+K annually. Perhaps an RPI+K system should be considered for NI - +K is necessary to fund system renewals. Full privatisation should be avoided as its impossible to have a competitive market in water due to the lack of a national grid, though they might want to give the water authority independent finance raising powers.

Chekov said...

Sorry to come late to this, but are you telling us that water is free in NI?

Theoretically water is charged for in our rates bills.

Kevinho said...

Which really means all of us in the UK pay your water bills out of our taxes. ;-)