Friday, 18 June 2010

Savings and cuts

THERE maybe a case for the Northern Ireland Executive to dip into the dictionary of euphemisms.

For the last number of years cuts in budgets have been called ‘efficiency savings’. Now they are cuts.

What is the difference between a three per cent efficiency saving or a three per cent cut? Answers on the back of a postcard to the Northern Ireland Executive…

Slash and burn baby!

THE Minister for Finance and Personnel, Sammy Wilson MP MLA, has warned that MLAs need to get real about the need for cuts.

He has criticised members for calling for extra expenditure at a time when the message of doom and gloom is being pedalled.

One senses that there was a certain sense of frustration from the former chief ‘A’ level economics examiner.

And for once, we tend to agree: like it or not there is a period of austerity ahead. That the private sector must bear a large portion of the blame is now irrelevant. That we, as taxpayers, bailed out banks and other businesses is now irrelevant.

So let’s all gather together and pick some front line services – say health and close them down. And if closing them down is too politically unpalatable then reduce spending so that they become practically unworkable.

Or we could pick school re-developments. After all the children get the education, who says they need to have classrooms that are barely habitable.

Road works – a bloody luxury! Just weave round the potholes.

And every community and voluntary group will no longer get the funding they need to plug the service gap that Government does not fill.

Alternatively MLAs and Executive Ministers could sit down and look at the services that are not really needed to keep NI plc going for the next couple of years. You know like the Sports Stadium. Oh, they didn’t agree on that one after spending a fortune on it.

Instead we listen in shock as a summer scheme for children with special educational needs is to have services greatly reduced.

Cheers for that MLAs! Now stop passing the buck around the bureaucracy and protect the front line and trim the fat.

Accelerated passage

WHILE the Northern Ireland Executive bitches, blathers and bumbles its way towards failing to enact any sort of change in local government, education et cetera, there is one piece of legislation that will be slipping under the radar very quickly.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Assembly will debate and rush through the “Allowances to Members of the Assembly (Repeal) Bill”. This legislation will tidy up some anomalies on how MLAs get pay rises, and how they can be compensated when they bow out from the Assembly.
Is it just us, or is there no justice in this? When the Finance Minister is sounding dire warnings over cuts and the Executive couldn’t agree on tea or coffee without a row, our esteemed political classes are sorting out how they get paid and how they get compensated.

No doubt there is a valid reason why this is receiving accelerated passage. The legislative equivalent of a laxative, to make things run quickly, is being applied to make sure that the procedures paying MLAs are all agreed well before the 2011 election.

When civil servants, public sector workers and associated private sector suppliers are facing either pay cuts or job losses, perhaps it is time for MLAs to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror. Perhaps it is time to take off their jackets, roll up their sleeves and do some work; some creative thinking and sort the mess out.

Instead they are looking after themselves.

Council saga with no happy ending

FAIL! Another failure from the Northern Ireland Executive this week: the Review of Public Administration hopes dashed against the rocks of party political selfishness.

The plan to reduce the bloated local government bureaucracy from 26 councils to a still high number of 11 foundered as the members of the Executive sat around in wee clumps of huffing Ministers.

And then the finger pointing began: with Sinn Féin, SDLP, UUP and Alliance on one side, and the DUP on the other.
There are really no adequate words to describe the increasing list of failures at Ministerial level. Yes, there has been some good work done by the Executive; but then again that’s what their supposed to do. In fact, the good, run-of-the-mill work only highlights the dismal failure on all sides to behave as if they were grown-up, mature human beings.

The majority of employees face some sort of performance appraisal: targets are set and if targets are met they get remunerated appropriately. Given the bloated salaries that Ministers receive, it would surely be a time for the Executive team to be paid according to what they do.

Where to start

IT’S difficult to find the right words or sentiments to comment on the end of the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday.

The 5,000 page tome was finally delivered this week and Derry’s Guild Hall saw some quite remarkable scenes, with hundreds cheering the Prime Minister and the tears of Jean Hegarty – amongst other relatives – poignantly captured on camera.

That the inquiry had to take place was still being called into question after its conclusion; while within hours there were several politicians calling for new inquiries into other events in the dark days of the Troubles.

The tragic deaths in Derry had to be investigated, if only to drive a wedge between an event that marked so much horror in the midst of horror, and a 21st century where only the truly stupid believe that violence can achieve any of their aims in Northern Ireland.