Monday, 25 October 2010

There will be blood

The Belfast Telegraph link is now available and in today's paper I focus on the spending review and, in particular, local reaction to cuts.
the notion that poor, benighted Northern Ireland is to be mercilessly squeezed by the perfidious Tories, was not unduly dented by the fact that we actually got off rather lightly, in comparison with the rest of the UK. 
It made little difference that we can expect only a 6.9% cut to our block grant, while the average government department will see its spending constricted by 19%.  Not even a cool £200 million, stumped up by the Treasury to reimburse investors in the ill-fated Presbyterian Mutual Society, could draw poison from local attacks on the Chancellor and his government.
Foremost among the critics are Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who allege that Osborne has broken a promise to deliver £18 billion of infrastructure improvements to Northern Ireland.  That figure was thrashed out behind closed doors with Gordon Brown, in the wake of the St Andrews Agreement, but Sinn Féin and the DUP believe that their backroom deal is binding.  
Speaking on the coalition‘s behalf, Secretary of State Owen Paterson insists that the target can still be met, if ministers here are prepared to pull their weight.  He points out that the Executive has been handed a number of levers to keep capital spending on track.  
Such faith in our politicians to take responsibility for their own difficulties is touching, but it is also naïve, and it graphically demonstrates why we have a particular problem. In truth the cuts really will hurt us more in Northern Ireland and we really are unlikely to see the fruits of an £18 billion capital spend.
The cuts, I argue, are set to cause a nationwide battle and Northern Ireland will bring its own peculiar enmities to the quarrel.
The whole United Kingdom is on the brink of its very own culture war, inspired by an atavistic political hatred of Conservatives, harboured by elements within the Unions and the left.  Quite simply, there are too many people who are spoiling for a fight with the new government.  It was almost impossible for the coalition to devise a route to recovery which would avoid confrontation.    
In Northern Ireland, the struggle has the potential to be even more rancorous, thanks to our own complicated national loyalties.  Contempt for the Tories will be exacerbated by other tribal resentments.  Whether one chooses to blame ‘the Brits’ generally, or the English more specifically, will depend largely on political affiliation. 
The supposed severity of government cuts is not the chief source of our worries.
If the people of Northern Ireland have reason to quake in their boots, it’s not due to a 1.7% year on year cut, applied by London.  The real worry is that the task of achieving that saving has been passed on to a group of politicians in Belfast who seem congenitally incapable of acting collectively or responsibly. 
The Northern Ireland Executive is not a passive victim of the new economic situation: it has options.  It can open new funding streams, privatise assets and strip back the cornucopia of Quangos and commissions, bequeathed to us by the peace process.  The coalition government has instigated the cuts, but in Northern Ireland, the buck stops at Stormont.

6 comments:

thedissenter said...

Yes. There seems to be a lack of recognition that devolution is not just about spending money and looking good, but also about making decisions based on the budget available. It feels rather alarming to listen to parts of the Stormont debate and think that some of the most sensible comments of the day were made by Sammy Wilson and Margaret Ritchie, and some of worst nonsense from members of their own Party colleagues.

It was perhaps too much to believe our politicians could ever rise to the challenge, but they don't even seem to be in the game.

Seymour Major said...

You are right to highlight the threat of strikes and the fact that Unions are spoiling for a fight. The Government has to have a plan B to deal with the industrial action. I believe that it will. It is going to get extremely nasty.

In Northern Ireland, the politicians have no choice but to make decisions which involve managing the cuts. What else can they do? They are powerless.
Otherwise, we end up with no money in the bank and nobody to bail them out.

rutherford said...

the thing is, if the MLA's think they can continue to mouth off and do little else, surely there comes a point when the question is put to them (not by our own muppets in the media mind you) - are they incapable of running a government?

Anonymous said...

Rutherford-
In answer to your question. Yes, they are incapable of running a government, not least because they suffer a shocking lack of education and also because remarkably few have ever held down a job in the real world. Most have been long-standing councillors and the newer/ younger ones tend to fall into that despicable class- the professional politician

Progressive Unionist said...

These Tory-Lib government plans for recklessly large spending cuts in Northern Ireland are unwise and short-sighted.

Northern Ireland is a unique economic case - there's a reason why the private sector is so small compared to the public sector. This should have been recognised by the Tory bean-counters, but instead they've gone ahead and slashed Stormont's budget.

Also, with the dissident threat growing, how can it possibly make sense to create a new pool of unemployed people on the estates with no prospect of employment in either the public or private sector?

This is insanity, brought to us courtesy of the Tories.

We need incentives to grow the private sector - but cutting the public sector on which two thirds of the people rely, is not the way forward.

Anonymous said...

PU

You show no understanding of the finances of the UK and should take a crash course before commenting.

NI is no longer a special case when compared to Scotland and Wales, so bleating about perfidious Albion instead of getting down to work and taking real decisions is par for the course for our local politicians.

The begging bowl days are well over and profligate spending is well and truly at an end.

No more Maze, no more RPA, no more money wasted on planning appeals etc. etc.