Friday, 20 July 2012

So what did you do over the summer?

IT’S that perennial classroom question; please write 500 words on what you did over the summer. Normally MLAs would struggle with beyond “bit of constituency work, and a break in the sun”.

Not so our intrepid, nay our dynamic duo of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have been busy wee beavers.

Shed off the burden of fellow Executive Ministers and the noose of nagging Assembly members, the Peter and Martin show cranked up the revs and put the boot to the floor.

In a single press release, the pair managed to cover 10 issues. Yep – where normally a press release issued by any arm of government struggles to exceed 10 paragraphs, this ode to decision-making rattled off decisions galore. Mind you, given that the last decision announced in the release was a review of the Executive Information Service this might just be a weird efficiency drive…

First up was the news that the Maze/Long Kesh former jail site was to be – well work was to finally start on the site. Well not actually any more work because they need to appoint a chair and a board to develop the development board’s work.

On the topic of the post-conflict something or another, there will now only be one Victims’ Commissioner. Where once there were four, now there are three and soon there will be one.

Anyone with a sense of irony may remember the toll taken by debates, court shenanigans and time wasted around the appointment of the four victims commissioners may pause to reflect that if the MLAs and Ministers concerned at the time had an ounce of wit then a lot of money could have been saved. But maybe all it took was a summer when we didn’t let the First Minister and deputy First Minister away with their bucket and spade.

Also flagged in the release was the appointment of a chair for the ILEX Board, which if you’re not from Derry/Londonderry then you will not understand what this is. And if you do, you get bonus points for your next political essay.

Still with us here – because there was a lot more to the succinct release, but we assure you that Ministers must be shuddering with horror at the agenda of the Norn Iron Executive’s first meeting after the summer holidays on September 3. Because Peter and Marty will be turning in one hell of an agenda based around what they’ve been up to.

One the agenda will be – based on this release – the Education and Skills Authority Bill. A bill designed to wind five education and library boards up, together with the Catholic Council for Maintained Education along with a host of other services. This stalled piece of the Review of Public Administration has, with no sense of saving any money been costing taxpayers millions, but may eventually save us all a total of £2.50 over coming millennia.

[Pausing for breath…] We also read with the delight that the Social Investment Funds are to finally to dive into action sometime soon, with some eejits volunteering to spend government money and then be accountable as to why they tried to spend it but government red tape wouldn’t allow them to spend the money.

There was also a non-announcement in the release around the Welfare Reform Bill. Social Development Minister, Nelson McCausland, has been at pains to say he’s trying to soften the blade of the Tory cuts axe in welfare reform after a series of rather public criticisms. But just in case anyone hadn’t listened to the many questions he has answered and the many public interviews on it.

Peter and Marty reassured us that the Executive is hard at work to “ameliorate the harsher elements of the Westminster Legislation”.  Now, as fans of Plain English we quickly clicked on “ameliorate” in our Word processor synonym function. It said that synonyms of “ameliorate” included “improve, restructure, revolutionise, reorganise, modernise, rearrange, upgrade…” We then checked our Collins English Dictionary, which said “ameliorate” could be defined as “to make, or become, better”.

Now take that sentence from the press release:  “ameliorate the harsher elements of the Westminster Legislation” and instead of “ameliorate” insert any of the words in the paragraph above. Are the Ministers suggesting we are to improve those harsher elements to make them harsher still? Are they going to make sure they are going to be better at being harsher? Will they be re-arranging the harsher elements into little bundles of harshness? Or is there a plan to modernise these harsh elements so as they have new little shiny suits of harshieness.

You may think that we are belabouring the point [Editor – you are belabouring it!], but, where normally the Executive is purposefully vague this seems to be picking a word at random in the hope it means what you think it means. When dealing with a benefits system affecting thousands of households one would have thought a wee bit of thought would have went into the language.

One would have also thought that Peter and Marty would have been rather pleased with themselves that while locked in a darkened room with only cold pizza and orange juice and lime juice (see what we did there…) they had cracked the thorny issue of the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy.

You remember that one about all being cuddly and nice to each other, not offending anyone which pissed off the Alliance Party? Yeah the CSI strategy (Cuddly, Sugary, Icky Strategy) has now managed to annoy Ulster Unionists. Now if CSI can also infuriate the SDLP, TUV, Green Party and David McNarry then it will be neither Cohesive, Sharing nor Integrated. Peter and Marty can shrug their shoulders and congratulate themselves as being more direct rule than direct rulers.

The final announcement in the list of announcements was re-structuring government with fewer ministers and less MLAs. That’s a row that has already started with speculation over DEL’s demise and one ripe for hissy fits and nervous MLAs. To be frank we can’t wait!