Friday, 24 April 2009

Money makes the world go round…

Money might make the world go round, but when it comes down to 2009, it appears that lack of money is making MLAs’ hearts beat a little faster. First came the prelude to the budget, then came the budget, then came the speculation about cutting departments…

And then Darling said it would be okay

A man with the surname ‘Darling’ surely can’t be all bad? After all the ‘Darling’ who was the foil to Blackadder in the BBC was in essence a nice guy, if a little on the dim side of stupid.

And the Darling currently not paying rent on Number 11 Downing Street, seemed to be awfully nice to Northern Ireland.

He gave us all an extra £116 million over the next couple of years. Nice of him that!

Oh, but would cut existing funding by £123 million in 2010-11. One hand giveth and one hand taketh away…

All that running back and forward to Westminster appears to have paid off (well not in terms of expenses, but we’ll come to that).

And then came the scary news…the Government’s spending review will almost definitely mean a sizeable reduction in the £10 billion handed out to NI every year from the Treasury, admitted Finance Minister, Nigel Dodds.

His solution is a hack and slash raid on the number of Executive Ministers….sorry Departments. Of course, there’s no political agenda in cutting departments. The fact that the UUP and SDLP would almost certainly find themselves out of the Executive is an unfortunate side effect…

The ongoing saga…

The UK airwaves have been flying with arguments about MPs expenses; second home allowances, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s botched attempt to have it all sorted in a fortnight.

It seems, however, that our MP’s will not be subject to any changes in second home allowances. Of course, nothing in Northern Ireland passes without a political dig. The Conservatives and Unionists Euro candidate Jim Nicholson claimed this was a sop to Sinn Féin whose MPs of course take the expenses and second home allowances but not their seats.

Money…not a bother mate!

If there’s one person seemingly unconcerned about money, it seems to be our illustrious Environment Minister, Sammy Wilson. He has been the subject to environmentalists’ ire over his remarks about climate change.

This week Sammy said he was not be ‘exercised’ by his carbon footprint, as part of his ongoing disagreement with climate campaigners and scientists (some of whom he says do agree with him…).

But an extrapolation of what the Environment Minister has said is that he is not exercised about money…

After all, carbon footprints are partially the result of car and plane travel. As Sammy gets expenses for travelling to work at Stormont and flying to Westminster, the cash cost of him not being ‘exercised’ by his carbon footprint is borne by guess who…yep me and you! Or has Sammy decided that in light of the doom and gloom on the economic front not to claim for these expenses.

Now where will the axe fall

While we can all try (and fail) to suppress a smile at the NI Executive’s discomfiture when faced with harsh economic realities, there is a serious issue at hand for Northern Ireland. That is the potential loss of the wads of cash we welcomed when the Troubles blighted our land.

So-called ‘serious’ economists tell us that there are areas of the UK that have worse levels of deprivation than us, and that we can’t keep holding out the begging bowl. And with Europe focussing its resources on new member states, we can’t keep looking there either.

However, I wonder how many have actually looked at the infrastructure that is propping up the local economy at the minute. The all-too familiar cries come that we’re surviving because of the 60 per cent of economically active people working in the public sector.

At the same time ‘front-line’ service expenditure in Northern Ireland is in some areas woefully low. One example, is the spending on personal social services for children, which is a fraction of that spent elsewhere in the UK.

This has, of course, subsequent implications in terms of health for those self-same children when they reach the age of economic activity.

Similarly, the history of underfunding on mental health…the policy of rationalising schools when statistics predict a bigger school population…the lack of savings made by the Review of Public Administration so far…

In other words there is a crisis coming down the tracks in many of the public services.
Should the axe fall on any of these areas the consequences…well there will be a helluva lot of them. Instead Nigel Dodds is considering, as mentioned earlier, a reduction in the number of departments. He could instead look at how many of the civil servants populating the massive buildings around the Stormont Estate actually have a productive function…and how many have meetings about meetings rather than delivering services.