Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Budget cuts - opportunities and responsibilities

Already there is a theme emerging in David Cameron’s treatment of the devolved regions.  The government is keen to allow the institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales plenty of leeway, on the understanding that they take responsibility for their own decisions.

The emergency budget has been announced and, naturally, each nation and region is expected to do its bit.  However, the new Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, has emphasised that the two devolved Assemblies and Scotland’s Parliament can defer any cuts.

It is an ingenious and eminently fair solution which neatly sidesteps the argument that budgets for this year have already been set.  Although, as New Right points out, it also allows parties to avoid getting their hands dirty before 2011’s elections.

David Cameron, as he had promised, quickly added trips to each of the UK’s capitals to the hectic schedule of establishing a new government.  He understands that devolution has changed the dynamics of our Kingdom, and the issues it raises must be handled with care.

When Cameron met Alex Salmond on Saturday, O’Neill has observed, his constructive approach both disappointed and disarmed the separatist.  He visited Cardiff yesterday and plans to touch down in Northern Ireland on Thursday, ash cloud permitting.

The Prime Minister will meet Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, no doubt explaining his government’s plans to address the deficit.  It will be up to the Executive do decide its own approach and take responsibility.

In today’s News Letter (no link), PWC’s Chief Economist, Esmond Birnie, refutes the suggestion that Northern Ireland’s politicians will have no leavers at their disposal.
“A raft on initiatives is open …. To mitigate cuts and to use the upheaval to our advantage.  New forms of finance raising, asset leverage, partnerships between the public and private and / or voluntary sectors all have the capability to reduce the impact of spending cuts”. 
Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, also intends to move ahead on his plans to put a decision on Corporation Tax into the hands of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Of course the attitude could be to blame everyone else and perpetuate the dependency culture.  It will be very much up to the Executive.  The signs weren't good when Sinn Féin / DUP refused to revisit the Programme for Government.

But Cameron and his government have indicated that they can be flexible enough to help Northern Ireland help itself, if the will is there.


Phil Larkin said...

This is an area where the voices of progressive, civic, and secular unionism will have to be heard. I am of the opinion that there are certain leading DUP figures who could be persuaded on the corporation tax issue, and if the SDLP came on board this would be a boon also.

Anonymous said...

As regards the deferral of cuts an administrative downsizing to come into effect after the next election should find a good chunk of them. Already a report arguing for the amalgamation of two departments.