Friday, 28 May 2010

Money, money, money

THE grim reaper of economics is preparing to swing his scythe throughout the public sector. Libraries, A&E departments, capital projects, school buildings, and a whole lot more are being axed, or being put on the (very) long finger.

There seems to be a uniquely Northern Ireland approach to this whole financial mess. Like it or not, cuts will be made.

First off, we need to see if there is a sectarian element. If we can’t find one, then (a) one needs to be identified or (b) a common enemy needs to be found or (c) if all else fails, attacks are to be directed towards any given Minister of any party.

If options (a), (b), or (c) are not available then the default option is for those opposed to cuts to whinge and those who have to make the cuts to hunt the thesaurus for euphemisms.

The fact that NI plc has already signed up to hundreds of millions of efficiency savings (euphemism for cuts), bluntly means that the extra cuts will come as a shock to an already worried public sector workforce.

“No compulsory redundancies” – translated to mean we’ll not force you out just yet; also a synonym for ‘when someone leaves we’re not filling the post.’

“New services will have to be delayed for a time” – translated to mean ‘you are dreaming if you think we’re doing it this side of never.’

“We will be reviewing its function” – translated to mean ‘we’re closing it as soon as we think we can get away with it.’

“The cuts seem not be as bad as feared” – translated to mean ‘they’re actually a lot worse than feared!’

A trim here and a cut here won’t always be noticed by the story hungry media, but the danger in this ‘salami slice’ approach is that it stores up a well of discontent against the Assembly and it’s Executive. It leads to MLAs being perceived as weak-willed individuals hiding in sectarian bunkers, unable to take decisive action…or is that the perception most people have already?

26 divided by 11 with the square root of another 2 weeks

MATHEMATICS can be such fun…especially in local government. Emptying the leisure centres, burying the bins and opening the dead…or something like that…

The 26 local councils have been performing a sterling service for so many years; doing the work that central Government cannot or will not.

But, let’s be honest 26 is a heck of a lot of councils and a heck of a lot of councillors.

So, many moons ago, when rivers ran deeper and mountains rose higher, there arrived a brain wave to reduce the bureaucracy, cut down the (number of) councillors, and centralise the two dozen plus human resource, IT and other ‘back office’ functions.

The much heralded Review of Public Administration raised the flag of efficiency, and lo it came to pass that proposals were made to…hang on a minute…that really was years ago: several years ago!

In that time the decision makers, the movers and shakers have not made a real decision, have barely moved a bit and have implemented no shake-up.

It is too easy to say that this is a damning indictment of the political classes, so we will say it: it is a damning indictment of the political classes that they cannot come to a decision.

Which, of course, leads to the conclusion that politicians in Northern Ireland cannot make a decision: no great surprise there! However, it is quite remarkable that in this tough financial climate (© David Cameron) no-one has had the vision and the foresight to make up their minds!

Edwin Poots – he that holds the Environment portfolio - has said that on Thursday week there will be a reckoning. We reckon that the blame will be passed round like the proverbial hot potato as councils cry foul, Sinn Féin and the DUP argue about boundaries and DoE officials will be saying that somebody will have to pay…

Created: a controversy

ANNOYED the BBC? Check! Annoyed the Republicans? Check! Annoyed the scientists? Check!

This week was mission achieved for Nelson McCausland – our esteemed and thoughtful Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure. He succeeded in annoying almost everybody outside the DUP (apart from a few mission halls where politics is never discussed but who think that it all went downhill for religion when Galileo first peaked through a telescope.)

To be fair to Nelson – and that is a phrase not always heard in any reasonable conversation - he made two good points. The first: The Orange Order; like it or loathe it, the Order and other ‘fraternal’ organisations played a role for better or worse in Northern Ireland’s history. The second point he made over Ulster-Scots part in history is also well made as the Plantation did indeed happen.

However, ‘alternative views of the origin of the universe’ comes under the Nelson and his DUP mates (plus a few wide eyed and staring types) are of the opinion that 99% of archaeologists, 99% of biologists, 99% of physicists, 99% of cosmologists, 99% of palaeontologists and 99% of all reputable scientists of other disciplines who have studied long and hard, published peer-reviewed papers and conducted painstaking experiments and postulated complex matters that require years of study are wrong.

Einstein was wrong according to Nelson and co, Darwin was wrong, and so on and so on. The role of science is outwith the remit of any Minister, and while he may have a view he has a duty; that duty is not to refute scientific evidence.

But then again Nelson is only doing what every Northern Ireland politician has done in recent years – ignore the facts and press on, preferably to the sound of a marching band.

Fawlty Towers

OH dear Basil…the UUP is beginning to resemble the infamous hotel presided over by Basil Fawlty. Instead we have Basil McCrea being told off not by an exasperated wife, but by a party supremo in the shape of David Campbell.

The row over whether Sir Reg should wait to go or slip off the leadership mantle immediately is symptomatic of the position in which the party currently finds itself. It is too busy warring with itself to wage war with its political opponents!