Friday, 6 August 2010

Healthy education budgeting

IT all seems a wee bit weird but it turns out the harbingers of doom for our frontline health and education services in the current financial difficulty may have been over-egging the tales of woe...or were they?

This week Finance Minister Sammy Wilson apparently struck a deal with the people at the helm of health and education, Michael McGimpsey and Caitriona Ruane respectively.

The deal was that ‘savage’ cuts to services of £45m were not to take place. In return, the Health and Education Ministers must allow the Finance Department's Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit access to their departments.

And the £60m of unspent money normally shifted between departments will go back to Whitehall.

Allow us to be a wee bit cynical here, but is Sammy's Department pulling a fast one here? For a start no sooner had the absence of cuts taken place than Ruane was out of the blocks announcing there was money available to build some of the new schools.

On close examination, the Health and Education Departments are avoiding having save squillions of pounds; but there will be a close examination of what efficiencies they can make.

In Northern Ireland pubic sector efficiency savings have been a blunt tool. Regularly next step agencies are told to make three or four per cent efficiency savings, with nary a direction as to where to they are to be made.

So, where are these efficiencies to be made in education? How’s a about doing away with all those annoying education and library boards and having a central administration; lets call it the Education and Skills Authority for the sake of argument. Ohh, that’s been tried, and isn’t likely to happen any time soon – or before the Assembly election.

Then how’s about all those hospitals cluttering up the countryside: you can barely turn a corner without either a hospital or a campaign to save a hospital. But well dare anyone who tries to close such a hospital, because then MLAs will be squealing about local services.

In other words, there is a lot of shifting of figures and playing with totals in advance of autumn’s Treasury spending review. There is much to look out for in the detail.

And by the way, waiting times are on the increase for a whole host of services...

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