Friday, 21 May 2010

Will we won’t we

TO cut or not to cut that is the question – alas our poor Finance Minister Sammy Wilson and his Executive chums are faced with a dilemma. For new PM David Cameron has offered a deferment or maybe a partial deferment to the slash and burn cuts that everyone has feared since the recession bit deep.

Now, it would be nice if we could all decide not to implement the cuts, but as always in any dealings with the Treasury there is a catch.

This time the catch is like the buy now, pay later deals beloved of many a furniture salesman.

If NI plc doesn’t tighten the purse-strings in this current year then the cuts could be double next year.

Sammy has already warned that there are cuts coming down the line no matter what the budget settlement is, and that in-year schemes to re-distribute unspent money will instead go back to UK Government coffers. But the real consideration is what happens with the Assembly election less than a year away.

The obvious solution would be to introduce the fair/unfair [delete as appropriate whether you have income below/above £100,000] water charges.

That would be a conversation worth listening into round the Executive table; or rather the lack of conversation.

Being nice people all round, Tories, DUP, UUP, Sinn Féin, SDLP, and Alliance members don’t want to introduce ‘cuts’ in the public sector, but rather are intent on boosting the private sector.

Their cunning plan is to insist on efficiency savings. Every Minister and public sector chief executive has been at pains to say things such as “no compulsory redundancies”. Of course, we’re not cynical, but let’s look at that statement in an analytical, rather than cynical manner. If there are no compulsory redundancies there are re-deployments or even voluntary redundancies. If such measures are taken (no doubt with a recruitment freeze too) then the money may be saved, but what about the services.

People, generally can’t help getting sick (and we are an ageing population), children can’t help but need to go to school, fires do not spontaneously put themselves out and roads that fix their own potholes are still on the design board. And, the automated dole office has not been approved for operation.

So brace yourselves people - whether now or later, the end is nigh!

Education – fights go on

WARS and rumours of war continue unabated in the education sector. In a strange week or so, there has been good news, bad news and no news.

To recap for those whose attention span cannot keep pace with the twists, turns and other diversions along the way…

Good news for Whitehouse Primary School pupils! The Minster that said yes, then no, is saying yes and work on a new building starts soon.

Good news for Pre-School funding, some more money coming downstream where previously there was only a trickle.

Bad news for ICAN Centre for children with speech, language and communication disability as the blame game continues between Ministers.

Bad news for capital projects that are awaiting the green light…

And no news over the Transfer debacle: yes for years upon years the serried, assembled ranks of MLAs and ne’er do wells that occupy their own particular moral high ground on education cast dispersion at the illiterate heathens that are on the other side of the debate.

In the latest non-development some, but not all MLAs paid – well it says ‘commissioned”, but that is paid by any other name – educational “experts” to produce the latest in several trillion reports on the transfer from primary to post-primary school.

Scandinavia forestry experts are anticipating a global crisis as paper stocks are depleted through the sheer demand for reports, counter-reports and meta-analysis of reports into the Northern Ireland post-primary transfer arrangements.

Manchester City is denying that it will make an offer before the summer transfer window closes.

Maze mystery

DOING nothing can cost a heck of a lot of money. An Assembly question from the Alliance’s Trevor Lunn this week revealed that the cost to the taxpayer – that is you, me and almost the rest of the population – of the largest vacant property in the civilised world has been £12.5m.

Even if you take out the £5m spent decontaminating the Maze site that still leaves £7.5m of diddly squat, nothing, nada and little else done on the huge site outside Lisburn…

The former jail is a testament, not to the former prisoners, not to the former prison officers, and not even to those whose lives ended within the walls of the Maze.

Instead, it is a testament to the complete and utter failure of 108 people and their appointed Ministers to get off their proverbial rear ends and make a decision without the need for consultant reports, feasibility studies, and general stalling exercises.

The trivial nature of some of the arguments for and against assorted developments would shame a primary school child – and mingled amidst it all is the mire of sectarian stupidity.

Here are the three decisions that need to be made:

· Decision one – sell it or keep it

· Decision two – keep it then agree to do something with it

· Decision three – do something useful with it, or split it into lots of useful wee bits.

Just make a decision!

Arise…sorry meant step aside Sir Reg

SIR Reg took the decision that realistically everyone expected when he announced that the UUP would have a new head honcho by the time the party’s autumn conference rolls around.

Betting has opened already with the list of supposed contenders expected to approach half the UUP Assembly team when summer ends.

But the main thing getting political commentators knickers knotted is whether the UUP/Tory joint project continues.

Political anoraks will already be calculating whether there will or will not be additional quotas in the Assembly election if the uneasy marriage continues. Either way, we understand the two party leaders are still behind the project. As for the party rank and file…