Monday, 20 February 2012

Moneybags Executive

EXCUSE us, but is there not a recession on? Is the world not teetering on the edge of economic meltdown? Is a run on European banks imminent should the economy all go south (that is ‘bad’, not down the road to Dundalk).

Did not our finance minister Sammy Wilson spend most of 2011 making doom-laden speeches? The end of times seemed a real possibility as the budget debates trundled on towards their inevitable interminable conclusion among the lesser-spotted MLAs.

But this week £580m popped out of the Norn Iron executive’s pockets to sprinkle cash for roads and hospitals. Huzzah, we cried, lit a cigar and reached for the champagne! Surely good times are here again!

Millions for roads! Millions for hospitals! Hooray! The good times roll on - but at what price? As the embers of our cigar are tapped into the ashtray and the fizz fades from our bubbly we got to thinking - must have been the champers that caused that - how come Mr Wilson and his executive chums can come up with these millions at the drop of the proverbial hat?

Maybe there is some sort of wishing well over which a chosen executive minister waves a magic money wand and out pops millions. Teachers need a generous redundancy package - wave the wand. Schools feeling the pinch, here comes the wand. Radiography for Altnagelvin? With a swoosh and a sway, abracadabra, wave the wand and here comes the money.

Does Mr Wilson have a wee shed at the back of Parliament Buildings were he stashes all this largesse, ready to dispense it like a latter-day philanthropic moneybags?
Unfortunately we fear not. A vertiginous feeling pervades our post celebratory blues.

Unless the UK coalition government’s welfare reform proposals are stopped in their tracks, which not very likely, the benefits cap and housing benefit qualifier will chew and gouge at the available cash as the norn iron executive struggles to plug the gap. This week’s slight drop in unemployment also saw an increase in claimants. When employment is low, crime is higher and the bill for health burgeons.

While the money was being announced, jobs were being shed at a call centre, and it was announced that the executive had missed out on essential targets, especially in the field of public health.

Public health is not glamorous, nor does it have the roar of heavy machinery that comes with road building. But it saves in the long term. Cancer screening can not only save lives, but can keep someone earning wages and paying taxes. Or what about the unpaid carer, which is often the euphemism for a grandparent providing childcare, or an elderly spouse looking after their disabled partner.

Unfortunately none of these things bring the government a-approved headlines: “we’re doing stuff, so pay attention you peasants!”

We have solutions - albeit fanciful ones.

Option one: employ a Greek financier and blow the lot. That way we’re guaranteed year long rioting and not just the sectarian summerfest of stone throwing. This will justify the clamour to Whitehall for more money for policing, and the police officers getting all that overtime have got to spend their money somewhere.

Option two is the more drastic: employ a really good squad of forensic accountants and a battalion of white shirted, bespectacled, calculator toting cash counters to see where the money is coming from; and secondly carve a swathe through the upper echelons of departments, recommending that the top tiers of administration are reduced while protecting those who actually do the work.

Will either of these options be deployed to solve the tsunami of trouble coming our way? Well, we can but dream. In the meantime it will be supermarket own brand cheapo Cava instead of champagne!