IN case you haven’t noticed, times are tight. And it looks like they are about to get tougher. The Conservative Party and Labour say there will be cuts in public spending. The Ulster Unionists and SDLP say there is hole in finances of NI plc. The DUP warns the block grant that the Treasury hands over may also be cut.
El Presidente…sorry First Minister Peter Robinson, says that this a golden chance to cut down bureaucracy.
His party’s plans to cut back on Government departments will never receive cross-community backing in the lifetime of this Assembly, which leaves him – and all in the Executive in a bit of a quandary. When, rather than if, the block grant is cut where to make the cuts?
The Review of Public Administration has already cut away some unnecessary layers of public service. Cutting or merging any more so-called quangos would at best save a couple of million pounds a year, and demands on the public purse are not likely to ease.
That leaves…front line public services. Across Northern Ireland most are already subject to three per cent cuts year on year. So what’s left? Health and social services: it’s the biggest, but as the population lives longer thanks to the doctors and nurses costs can only be cut by cutting services. And making doctors, nurses work ever harder…
Education: A rare phenomenon in western Europe here is that statistically births are increasing. This means that the planned cull of schools may be a little premature. The option open to the government here is therefore bigger class sizes and fewer teachers.
Without labouring the point the only realistic cuts in these straightened times will be among front line services.
Somehow Northern Ireland’s political classes believe that the Orange Green axis of voters will ignore all this and just keep voting them in.
But, they can perhaps make, at least a gesture towards showing that they care; a display of empathy even.
Every politician could agree to take a 10% pay cut. Equally, every public or civil servant earning more than 50k a year could take a 10% pay cut. Every politician, public or civil servant earning more than 100k could take a 20k pay cut. It wouldn’t stave off economic meltdown but it would show that they care.
The likelihood of said people ever taking such a pay cut? As likely as a resolution of the post primary school transfer mess happening before hell freezes over.