Monday, 21 February 2011

Excuse me, but it is our money!

NOW we may be ignorant as to the mystical and mythical ways that bean counters, treasury officials, auditors, management consultants, actuary managers and others with spreadsheets work, but even they must despair at the labyrinth that passes for budget discussions in Northern Ireland.

C’mon politicians it is the budget for all of Northern Ireland, for all of Northern Ireland’s population, for every man, woman and child, for each and every one of our services.
It is not your budget, apart from the fact that you too – hopefully – pay taxes on your earnings.

So while you are bickering, wrangling, fighting and waffling here’s a brief guide to understanding the budget…

First we pay taxes. The taxes go across the water to people in England. Those people agree how much of that tax money can come back to Northern Ireland.

Then you, as responsible, mature, thoughtful politicians agree how to those taxes can be used to provide services to we, the public.

Okay that last sentence may have contained a fib or two – like the adjectives ‘responsible’, ‘mature’, and ‘thoughtful’ when applied to the mass of MLAs. We are, of course, not suggesting that there are not some who are responsible, thoughtful or mature, but then again….

When it comes to putting a semblance of decision-making behind the whole budget business (and we’re not even going to mention the regional rate!) one would have expected at least our Executive, our committee members and other assorted MLAs to have some common purpose.

Then again, we are generally hopeful that Utopia will eventually be created somewhere outside Belfast (given our luck it will be somewhere in north Down…) and all will be well with the world.

Instead, we have the Finance Committee telling, in effect, their party colleagues, that the budget was delivered too late, and that some departments weren’t engaging with scrutiny committees.

So, it is a mess, the Executive will do what it wants, and in many cases civil servants will have prepared all the programmes for ticking off by their political masters (who, we hope have given appropriate political direction).

And with an election coming down the track all too rapidly, we can at least expect everyone to disagree with everyone else. As they do that, we hope that they remember that it is all our money they are talking about, and it is us who will be queuing at the ballot box.

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