IT’s good to know that the good old BBC cares. This week they have helpfully published the ‘Doomsday Timetable’. [BBC reporters didn’t actually say that, but we’re taking the editorial liberty of saying what they won’t]
At least ‘Doomsday Timetable’ would be what one could be led to believe if you heard reports of what is coming down the track in terms of the schedule to work out just how much money had to be saved from the national debt.
Helpfully Auntie Beeb outlined how over the summer axe on services would be considered by the Northern Ireland Executive, with this month departments all considering the option between ‘salami slicing’ of budgets and ‘sweeping cuts’.
It is becoming increasingly tiresome how the lives of workers and frontline services are being dealt with in euphemisms. A salami slice is still jobs and services gone, and sweeping cuts means a more demonstrable ending of careers and services.
Which all means that come September, we shall see MLAs fall over themselves to say that they ‘understand’ the financial pressures, before saying that they don’t want to see their local service ended, or the service they are being lobbied to save slashed.
The upshot is that there needs to be some leadership without the technocrat waffle; there needs to be honesty; and there needs to be at least one cadre of MLAs which will stand up and say that this hospital has to close, or this education programme must end. Tough decisions will need to made as the Executive sets its spending priorities for the next four years.
Yes, it is unlikely. Rather we suspect that there will be a few headline grabbing quangos or ‘white elephants’ cut - the relevant ministers taking a bow and quietly forgeting that this was what the Review of Public Administration was meant to do. There is such a thing as hitting an ‘Aunt Sally’.
If one reads enough Executive Information Service press releases, a pattern emerges. That pattern is of promises to save money being retreaded every so often.
And while such promises are regularly made they are rarely fulfilled. Education and Skills Authority to replace the education and library boards anyone? Or what about the reduction of the number of local councils?
We fear that rational cuts in Northern Ireland‘s budget have not been made soon enough and that Ministers will now be forced to slash services when the plans could have been made well in advance to make such cuts less painful.
In terms of where the cuts should fall, nothing should be left off the table - the taxpayer contribution to the civil service pension pot included.
Alas, Auntie will be on hand as the timetable of doom comes closer to its October 20th end. When the NI Executive Budget spending review goes out for consultation, it may already be too late for too many people.