Friday, 14 January 2011

THE former Chief Examiner of ‘A’ level economics and current Minister for Finance and Personnel, Sammy Wilson was in a war of numbers this week, as opposed to the usual war of words.

It appears that someone got their numbers crossed and confused when comparing health budgets in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Tortuously eyes were cast over a briefing note to the Finance Committee highlighting the fact that Minister Wilson had got his figures wrong in statement before Christmas. According to the Assembly research department, the Scots reduced their health spend by .303% - not 3.03% as suggested by the Minister…oh we don’t really care anymore. No-one with something approximating a life will be bothered by the nuances of such comparison.

Crude politicking lies behind all comparisons and use of statistics.

What really needs to happen is some cool heads to look at what way we can organise the figures, shift the money about and get central government to loosen up a wee bit.

We have an idea for co-option to the Executive’s bean counter cadre. Eric Daniels.

Eric is the Lloyds Banking boss who presided over the rather unfortunate purchase of debt ridden HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland), which led to Government taking a share in the Lloyds Group (currently at 41%). He’s quitting in March with an alleged bonus of £2m coming his way.

But look at his record – he was in charge when the money train ground to a halt, he got the bank back in profit and got government to cough up.

So, while his services might be costly, we could always ask Eric to spend a couple of weeks playing with the books of NI plc and getting HM Treasury to loosen the purse strings.

Ultimately Eric could help privatise the entire region as the first FTSE listed region…


GOOD evening and welcome to DIY SOS NI – the country where doing it ourselves has taken on a new meaning – and we don’t even have Nick Knowles and his happy band of helpers to lend a hand.

Yes, with the cutbacks we’re all going to have to pitch in and help save the world around us.

First order of the day - schools! You see those dratted mandarins at the Treasury have changed the rules and, if NI plc hasn’t spent the money, the Treasury want it back. So out goes about £87m of funding carried over to build new schools and replace dilapidated and unsafe classrooms.

In line with PM David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, if we all chip in we can sort the whole mess out. If you have a school near you needing rebuilding you can do something about it! Donate a brick, chip in for the cement and if you don’t have any building or construction skills get along to your local further education college and enrol for a course.

And if you really, really believe that the north-west needs a new cancer unit, and the minister says he can build it but not resource it, then people step up to the mark. Get along to university and do a crash course in radiotherapy and radiography – then you can volunteer to get along. And we’re pretty sure that you can chip in for the cost of any equipment.

Really, come on, if we all put our shoulder to the wheel everything will be all right.

Errrr, except it won’t: the list of cuts is mind-boggling. Education, further education, higher education, health, social services, housing; wherever you look the departmental draft budgets make for bleak reading.

But if you really want to have your say, apart from spouting off on the radio, the Northern Ireland Executive has extended the consultation by one week from the 9th to the 16th February – so that’s okay then.

And look out over coming weeks for each and every member of the Executive and each and every MLA pleading poverty to their colleagues and doing the ‘sad face’ in front of the cameras.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

ESA please!

IN a stunning New Year’s resolution Northern Ireland Executive ministers are to resolve to make actual real proper decisions this year.

Yes, they will come up with an answer to the post-primary school transfer quandary, they will agree the best way forward on water charging, they will solve the issue of mental health needs and they will finally complete the education element of the Review of Public Administration by establishing the Education and Skills Authority.

After reading that ESA has cost £10m without closing the education and library boards, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness told the Executive: “Let’s get our act together!”

With sober contemplation the ministers sat, late on New Year’s Eve, looking at the embers of their fires, contemplating 2010 and decided that their collective resolution was that they would not look after selfish political interests, nor personal promotion, but would act collectively for the common good.

Unfortunately, like all New Year’s Resolutions they are broken quickly and the bickering and back-biting so far in 2011 is but a mere warm-up for the election campaign.


You are talking bulls***

IT is now official! The Northern Ireland Civil Service talks bulls***!

The Plain English Campaign has awarded the NICS its not so prestigious ‘Golden Bull Award’.

The award was given to NICS for this wonderful piece of prose:

“If the annual leave request that you are entering is less than a full day on the First Day or the Last Day, then please select Hours from the drop down list of values in the Part Days Unit of Measure field. Then select the amount of hours on the first day in the Fraction of Start Date or the last day in the Fraction of End Date field. If the absence is only for one day, use the Fraction of Start Date field to record the hours absent.”

This almost Homer-ian odyssey of word play is all about taking half-a-day’s leave.

In the past the private sector has been quick to criticise the amount of sick leave that civil servants take. We suggest that it may all be because of the stress caused by trying to take a half-a-day’s leave.