Friday, 10 February 2012

Quackers counting

RIGHT we apologise for the pun about being quackers, but it was South Antrim MLA Mitchell McLaughlin’s fault.

“If it walks like an overspend, quacks like an overspend, then as far as the public is concerned it is an overspend,” said Mr McLaughlin about a government ‘overspend’ on an accounting software procurement designed to improve accounting...

The software package concerned, called Account NI, is designed to make procurement in the civil service more efficient. Seriously, you really couldn’t make this up.

Of course, the civil service had a perfectly rational explanation why something budgeted at almost £1m ended up costing ten times that figure. For those like us with limited mathematical skills, we’ll save you reaching for the calculator - it works out as almost £10m.

Now while this is a shocker in terms of how such a figure grew to such wallet choking amounts, it does give legs to the issue of the deep, entrenched relationship between the public sector and the private sector.

As good, balanced people, we can regularly argue for both public sector cuts and protection of the public sector, sometimes at the same time. However, pushing the political soundbite generators known as MLAs to one side for a minute, the reality is that for some companies the deep pockets of the civil service can be picked to see what pounds lie within - consultancies specialising in telling the civil and public sector exactly what they want to hear are two a penny here.

In the public’s perception this must lead to some confusion.

There now follows a gratuitous selection of puns: This whole thing is quackers; we need to identify who ducked this issue; and we cry fowl on the whole thing!

And that’s before the news that the Public Prosecution Service, the Departments of Justice and Finance are expected to have to cough up around £2m to settle a lawsuit taken by…over 50 lawyers.

Is it any wonder that various species of duck come to Norn Iron as part of their annual migration: with so many people quackers they feel right at home.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Peace sells…but who’s buying?

SO Europe has said that they’ll cough up the cash for the new peace and conflict resolution centre at the site of the former Maze prison.

Complete with a centre to explore past divisions, workshop with international groups, tour trips to an ‘H’ block and visits to the former prison’s hospital and chapel it sounds wonderful.

The bill is not so wonderful. Europe is contributing £18m. The total cost of the re-developing the entire Maze site, including the Peace Centre thingy is £350m, a serious wad of cash in these straitened times.

But, really it’s not the cost that is really irksome. It’s the length of time it takes for the executive to get round to getting the blooming thing done. By our calculation most prisoners spent less time in the Maze than it has taken to actually develop the new place!

Belfast is spending £233m developing parts of the city and seems on schedule to spend it in three years. C’mon Maze development team! Get yer act together. If you’re going to spend our money do it quickly so we can have a nice wee row about your spending our money.

Tory Transfer Talks

AS if Tom Elliott didn’t have his sorrows to seek, the Tories in Northern Ireland are on the march again with the official formation of a new political party going by the name “The Conservative and Unionist Party of Northern Ireland”.

Given previous elections results, this is less an ominous threat and more a damp sponge casually tossed at the battlers within the UUP.

However, with at least one prominent candidate publicly jumping ship to the Bangor based Conservatives, will other UU’s be tempted to throw in their lot with the blue brigade, thus leaving the ranks of the increasingly blue-rinse backers of the Ulster Unionists.

After the re-buff from Tom Elliott to the Tory advances for a union with unionists, the new party will initially have an observer seat on the Conservative party’s national board and its own party leader. Will this be enough to attract UU members or like-minded independents? And how will the ‘unionist’ in its new title (not to mention the union flag logo displayed prominently on the party’s website) go down with that constituency that supports the values of a centre right party but is fiercely proud of its Irishness?

We have our doubts that the new party will be an instant success, but having its HQ in Bangor is an astute move. While Lady Sylvia Hermon attracted a sizeable vote for her personal constituency work and independent minded nature, there is a rump amongst the cognoscenti in Cultra, Helen’s Bay and Bangor West who might be persuaded at council, and eventually Assembly level to take a gamble.

Oh the horror of it all! We, and the average voter are confused enough with the Single Transferable Vote and sorting out the green and orange vote before trying to think through who is right wing, who is left wing, who is centre right and who is centre left. And then putting them in order on the ballot paper…spare the poor voters like us who struggle counting beyond five without taking one glove off.