Wake up to the implications of Cameron cuts

Now that David Cameron has stumbled over the burning issue of more, more cuts, is there any chance of holding a sensible local debate on the subject before or even after the election? With a couple of honourable exceptions the local MSM seem lack the analytical skills and editorial ambition to take it on. Politicians in all three devolved areas are in denial and are pinning their hopes on a hung parliament to try to blackmail a weak central government to provide extra cushions in coming years. They can dream on. Different parts of Cameron’s politics pull in opposite directions. But the overwhelmingly majority of English of all parties will unite against any hung parliament that gives the Celts an unfair deal at their expense.

The politics are incredibly difficult. David Cameron’s toughish talk on cuts clashes with his soft “respect” pitch to the Scots, and the N Irish where the Tories are politically weak , and in Wales where their position has improved. How to arrive at fair cuts all round may be at odds with Cameron’s main plank as the Conservatives, the party of the Union.

In the Bel Tel the admirable John Simpson spelt out the challenges facing Sammy over the present round of £370 million cuts. What about the next round, the possible Cameron cuts coming in the autumn or even as early as June? My colleague Alan Trench in his great blog Devolution Matters critiques Cameron’s remarks. This is a start. Anyone out there willing to take up the challenge? Professor Barnett again? Can we get extend the discussion beyond process reforms and more government contracts for small businesses?

From Alan Trench on “The Tories and regional spending cuts”

It’s worth noting that there has already been a considerable reduction in public spending in Northern Ireland since 1999. In 2003-04, it was 126 per cent of UK average per capita spending; the estimate for 2008-09 was 122 per cent. Part of the rationale for some of the Treasury’s generosity toward Northern Ireland (as with the financing deal for devolving justice and policing) is that it is a way of sharing that ‘peace dividend’ between the North and the UK

Targetting public spending in regions where the public sector is ‘over-large’ is at odds with adopting a needs-based approach to public spending, as David Cameron has said they Tories will (reported best by the Western Mail here).

Helping the economy as a whole to grow so that the public sector is a smaller part of it is a laudable ambition and need not involve public spending cuts. But this is very hard to achieve; Labour policy since 1997 has to been to try to do this, by various means, including (in England) establishing regional development agencies and a public service agreement target. None of these initiatives has been very successful. Securing real, private-sector-led, economic growth in lagging parts of the UK is very tough indeed, and will require a careful plan, not just rhetoric.

Beyond this, it’s hard to reconcile what are clearly two different directions of Tory thinking – ‘reining back’ the state on one hand, and equity in allocation of public spending on the other. The relationship between these two strands appears to be a weak one. This may just be a matter of presentation, but it may also suggest that they’ve simply not understood the complex interaction of these issues, and developed a coherent, thought-through approach to them.


  • Cynic2


    This is your third thread on this in 24 hours? In the last two you lost the argument comprehensively so now you are having a third go. A tad obsessive perhaps, to keep retreading a dead story like this? Were you trained on the Daily Mail?

    What Cameron said and what almost all the posters on your two earlier threads seem to agree with, is that we have to rebalance the NI economy. He hasn’t threatened immediate cuts in NI nor has he threatened to decimate the NI budget,. That was the BBCs malicious interpretation after Newsnight when they were desperate for a Cameron gaff story. Sloppy cynical journalism.

    Indeed, if you don’t want to take my word on what about Martin Guinness who in an interview in New Statesman said

    ” Well, I’ve met with Owen Paterson [the Conservative shadow Northern Ireland secretary] and David Cameron, and they made it clear that they are prepared to stand faithfully by the agreements that have been made. ”


    Indeed, I seem to remember hearing Owen Paterson talking before about this needing a 20 to 25 year process – something that will probably see both of us off Brian. So why all the fuss? Why all these false histrionics?

  • Brian Walker

    cynic, It’s what we call a running story about the most important issue in the election and public affairs generally, not an obsession. Uncuf and others are entitled to a write-in if they want. Have you actually noticed that facing up to the reality of major cuts is one of Cameron’s main planks?

    My posts are nuanced if you bother to read them fairly rather than use them as an excuse to tut-tut. ( see link and extracts from Alan Trench). No one questions the need to rebalance the economy – although it’s best not to knock the public sector’s ability, well directed, to stimulate growth too.

    In the blog you complain about, I’m trying to encourage intelligent debate. Perhaps you’ll contribute.

  • The Raven

    I’ve just had a HUGE rant here

    But just to say, Alan Trench is right: “Securing real, private-sector-led, economic growth in lagging parts of the UK is very tough indeed, and will require a careful plan, not just rhetoric.” It takes time, it takes MORE money and it takes very careful planning. Two decades/a generation, as I mentioned before.

    Your local representatives and their British predecessors have singularly failed to show the resolve, leadership or even general nouse to begin even contemplating what needs to be done. They are simply not up to the job, and I can only urge you to start looking for electoral alternatives over the next four years.

    £370m sounds like a huge amount of money. But it can be found. Perhaps I could make a suggestion to liven this thread up. Anyone ever seen “Dave”? Specifically this scene ?

    Could maybe a few contributors – without making reference to a single job loss – post in a suggestion, with a monetary amount of saving along with it?

    I’ll start the ball rolling. DPP members still getting paid a monthly “allowance”? Ballpark annual cost of around £3m in Northern Ireland? That’s just a guess, and I’ll revise it if I am wrong…but let’s pull that.

    So. £3m. £367m to go. Who’s next? Remember, no job losses allowed.

  • The Raven

    Just to clarify, I am only suggesting doing away with DPP “salary” not DPPs themselves. If we did, that would £5.5m (I’m told) saved. But let’s not go there.


  • Cynic2

    But the way to do that Brian is surely on one thread unless there is a dramatic change in the story. There hasn’t been but you keep plugging away at it opening new threads. I agree that Trench is right and his comments provide some balance. What I have complained about and you haven’t answered is your apparent bias. Now this is a blog, not the BBC so you are entitled to be biased but its a tad tedious. Just what did Maggie Thatcher ever do to you?

  • Cynic2

    Ps …again, look at your headline. What cuts?

  • Harry Jay

    Cameron = Tory = bad = end to all public services

    A vote for the DUP will ensure that the economic investment is trebled and definitely will happen.

    Bye bye Reg Bye bye UUp

  • unionistvoter

    Surely the overwhelming issue is that we have a potential Prime Minister who recognises the scale of the problem. Not only that he also has given a commitment to addressing it. The question really is are the DUP and others mature enough to engage in real politics.

    The Conservatives and Unionists recognise that it will take 25 years to transform the economy in Northern Ireland and have a plan to address it. What is the alternative? More of the same?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Its not just about the Celtic Fringe but good luck to any Tory in Wales and Scotland who are pushing for Cuts.
    But its also about regions in England.

    England might not like subsidising Wales and Scotland to facilitate sabre rattling and claymore rattling Nats.
    But the Tories have to gain seats in the North West, North East, South West.
    In essence about 150 seats in the Home Counties subsidise 500 others.

  • glencoppagagh

    ‘A vote for the DUP will ensure that the economic investment is trebled and definitely will happen’

    What on earth is this supposed to mean?

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    This pie in the sky economics thats being peddled by the politicians and the electorate that the economy can shrink by 10%, borrowing go up by 10% but there will be no cuts to front line services and headline taxation will not go up is delusional madness.
    Thats the problem though when the electorate is of average intelligence and is as self serving as the politicians. As long as I’m ok, I dont care attitude is prevalent.
    The celtic fringe demanding their allocations not be cut in the face of global recesson will heighten the english sense of grievance and do more than anything else to hasten the demise of the union. In fairness, at least Salmon has the wit to realise this. If the DUP had any sense they would call upon the voters to treat this like a war, roll in behind the union, take the pain and get the economy moving. They wont do this, because even their voters consider it their right to be supported by the british tax payer.
    The result of this wil be greater fiscal powers demanded by the regional assemblies and the next economic downturn (10 – 15 years) will see the push pull dynamics become too great and the union will dissolve amiably but irrevocably

  • The Raven

    I am assuming

    (a) no one is close enough to any sort of government to throw a few “cuts” ideas in, and

    (b) Harry Jay is either Harry J, who is drunk and delusional, or an impersonator who thinks it’s funny to ape a troll.

    Here’s another. Stop all newspaper advertising by the Assembly, and use THE DAMN WEBSITE PROPERLY as a central medium for assembly advertising of, well, just about everything.

    Savings: around £9m per annum. There’s £12m now. £358m to go.

  • South Antrim BOY

    those who say th tories are going to take 25 years to address NI problems havent been listenting to David Cameron who says he will cut 6 billion this year

    Thats 200 million from the NI budget between june – next march

  • The Raven

    We have been listening. That’s why some of us advocate something a little more realistic and less crowd-pleasing than screaming for cuts. Some of us aren’t as divorced from the real as these politicos are.

  • Driftwood

    The Raven
    look at the attempts to economise so far, ESA, RPA etc, they have actually cost more and no change has been effected. No-one was actually serious about change. Complacency is still the prevailing attitude.

    The wall of denial may be about to crumble, our cargo cult ‘economy’ is not real. Brown or Clegg have not challenged Cameron’s remarks, because they know what he said is true.
    Expect a wail of protest from ‘community groups’ and the various self serving commissions etc as the scramble to protect useless ‘projects’ and well paid non-jobs turns to panic.

  • Driftwood

    Oh and the public sector unions will no doubt be getting their protests in thick and fast as the thought of their members actually having to ‘work’ for a wage becomes the ultimate nightmare for civil servants.

  • Alias

    It’s a good lateral point regarding looking for alternative ways of cutting expenditure (which folks should do anyway) but in this case the lateral is a diversion from the essential in that labour must be transferred from the public to the private sector if the private sector is to develop to where it has parity with the rest of the UK. There is no other internal source for this required supply of quality labour, so the abnormally large size of public sector employment is a handicap to the growth of indigenous business and that is a problem that has to be resolved by the simple expedient of cutting the numbers employed. I see no reason why it should be 50% larger than the UK average.

    If you’re looking at cutting the spending of quangos, then look at cutting the quangos as well. If you implement a policy of counting the paperclips, the public sector will simply create a new department of paperclip counters.

  • DJT

    Suggestions for cuts in NI public expenditure (no immediate job losses):
    Transfer Ulster Scots Agency to charitable sector (if genuinely needed, will grow and create jobs…if silly made up language to appease DUP then maybe not)
    Do same with any publically funded Irish language bodies
    Stop govt documents being printed in anything but English
    Cut MLA salaries by 20%; cut number of MLAs by 50% (ok a job cut…but hey!)
    Don’t radically change the secondary school system (big saving here…SF/SDLP/Alliance’s creeping comprehensivisation plan will cost millions – plus keeping a good system will increase chances of actually realising a “knowledge based economy”)
    Introduce fair water charges. Typical costs in GB: Council tax £1000-1500 pa; water rates £350 pa. Compare with typical rates in NI.
    Reduce trips by ministers etc. Do they really need to be in the White House on St P’s? And it curdles my innards to say it, but the DUP plan to hold North-South meetings by teleconference has some merit.
    End de-rating of Orange Halls; everyone should pay fair share
    No more public funding for “Orangefest”, the West Belfast festival etc.
    Sell surplus govt land (at market rates, not a fiver…sorry certain DUPers, but this is for everyone, not just you lot)
    End UK govt and NI Exec advertising (OK this might destroy UTV as about half the adverts outside peak hours now seem to be from the govt telling us to do the blindingly obvious such as breathe once in a while – “Quieter trains are harder to hear” being my all time favourite); as pointed out above, do job adverts and recruitment online as much as possible.

    Eventually, of course, the size of the public sector payroll must shrink. Let’s hope that our politicians have the foresight to help the private sector build capacity over the next few years. Looking at the current crowd, I’m not that hopeful. More likely we will get more tax-funded perks for special interest groups. (Message to the richer bits of the UK – we’re not living it up over here ya know. We spend your money mostly on rubbish we don’t need and so we’re still poor!)

  • Cynic2

    He also promised no significant short term cuts here. The £6bn is a global figure and represents less than 1% of current spending.

    So anyway, I assume you will be voting for Reg as that’s a surer bet than putting your trust in Willie;s singing

  • Cynic2

    Thats because NI Ministers are focused on building their Department and power in this dysfunctional structure. When all the FM and DFM do is to try and blackmail the Government for more, who can blame them?

  • Cynic2

    That alone is grounds for a sickie and claim for ‘management induced stress’

  • Re-engaged

    How has this story required 3 posts by the same author – all that is happening is another commentators info being hauled out – have I missed something as last time (about 5 minutes ago) it did not appear to be playing big in the mainland and apart from some peripheral damage to UUP / UC votes in SA / Strang / EB and ND is not going to play big locally.

    For fear of finding I have got caught in Ground Hog Day lets repeat the basics:
    – poor political timing by Cameron – factually correct – just not well presented
    – Brian – what is your true agenda?
    – Public sector must look at salary levels / recruitment freeze as starter
    – Benefits system must be changed radically how can we spend more on them than Education and Defence combined and only marginally less than Education and Health combined
    – Good point raised by Dr McDonnell – how will Sir Reg if elected and part of a CU cabinet explain to McGimpsey a reduction in funding directly effecting health?

  • Re-engaged

    Now neither yourself or Harry J – not sure if you are the same – live in the real world. Even the most ardent DUP support knows tha a vote for the DUP does not even guarantee £1 of economic investment.

    Get real as Gordon would say 🙂

  • The Raven

    Drift, RPA – at Council level – was a smokescreen and nothing more. The real gubbins was behind it in health and education, and as you say – what was achieved? Nothing. And focusing on the Council aspect of RPA is just plain wrong. They cost less than 4% of the budget in NI. There are bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

    Someone else up there gave quangos a touch. Any figures?

    I’m absolutely serious, by the way. £370m could be very easily found through efficiencies and not one job would have to be lost. And while that’s going, the process of beginning to develop an exit strategy for all those civil servants with regard to my post in a previous topic.

  • Cynic2

    ” how will Sir Reg if elected and part of a CU cabinet explain to McGimpsey a reduction in funding directly effecting health?”

    Quite easily. “Minister, that’s your budget and you have to live within it just as everyone else does”

  • South Antrim BOY

    i dont see cameron winning a majorit so reg becomes irrelevant.
    it will be a lib/lab pact with brown out of the picture.

    cameron will probably go after being at the helm for five years and failing to remove the most unpopular prime minister for a generation

  • Brian Walker

    Lots of room still left for intelligent debate on the implications of deficit reduction for NI !

  • The Raven

    Well in that case, Brian, let me put a couple forward:

    I don’t think the electorate here really care about implications for Empey. I think they see through Robinson’s bluster, and I think they know that no matter who they vote for, the cuts will come, hard and fast.

    The inevitable pay freeze will come – in fact I think it has already. No one has, to my knowledge, looked at paycuts, but it’s time they did.

    I think there are many perceived “luxury items” which will go begging. I think you can pretty much put all major road and other infrastructure projects off for the next five years.
    I think things like Ilex in your former hometown will move to the list marked “desirable” rather than “necessary”. Aren’t there other former military which are sitting around, doing nothing?

    I also think that a lot of quangos are about to get squeezed. I believe there are about 20 attached to the NIO/DoJ, and another ten with the Assembly, costing around £250m? (I can be corrected should this be utterly wrong). Let’s have a real look at those and see what services can be brought in-house, so to speak. LPS is one that could very easily be farmed out to the Councils. This so-called Special EU Programmes Body is another. Less EU money now than when it was set up – and yet it continues to grow unchecked.

    And speaking of which, the Council element of RPA – I’ll put £10 in the tipjar if it happens by 2011. £430m savings over 25 years?? What’s the point, Edwin?

    Further, most Councils are going to cut back drastically on services, which (regardless of what unknowledgeable naysayers in here think), already extend way beyond bins, burials and bogs now. A few more leisure centres will go to the private sector; some of these arts centres – and we have some good ones here – will be mothballed. Local community groups who rely on the handouts will go without next year on. And so on.

    There’s a few, and it’s late. I’m off. But I’ll say it again one more time: there is plenty of room for efficiencies before you ever have to even look at losing one job.

  • Reader

    The Raven: “I’m absolutely serious, by the way. £370m could be very easily found through efficiencies and not one job would have to be lost. ”
    I am not sure that’s an improvement. Paying exactly the same number of Civil Servants *not* to spend any money (‘infrastructure projects’) in the local economy? That’s hardly going to give a boost to local businesses. In fact, it *will* cost jobs.
    Now, since you also want to wipe out a load of quangoes, that *would* be a fine place to start.

  • The Raven

    Reader, those aren’t what I want to see. It’s what I expect to happen, and it’s in answer to Brian asking for examples. Sorry for any confusion. 🙂

  • cynic2

    Well Brian lets try these for a starter

    * move all Government Advertising on-line and out of print media / paid for web advertising. Make a small compensating payment for more internet terminals in public libraries for those who don’t have one at home

    * bring in professional HR consultants and evaluate all NICS above DP to determine capability to do their jobs. Terminate employment of those who fail. Aim for at least 30% cut in posts

    * abolish Ministerial approval for crony appointments onto all Boards Quangos etc. Put these in hands of Civil Service commissioners to ensure competence and probity

    * protect accrued benefits but move all existing civil servants onto new pension scheme wef 1 April 2012 based on average salaries and with reduced index linking and higher contribution

    * reassess every single Government service. Where it can be provided in private sector contract it out on a 5 year plan. Aim to achieve at least 15% cost saving.

    * reduce civil service sick benefits to 3 months full pay then 3 months half pay

    * cuts NI block grant by 20% of the cost of all NI quangos. Let Stormont decide what goes and what the priorities are. Its time for some real politics.

    * abolish all NI local councils and run the services contracted out in private sector from Stormont. Again this will promote some real politics.

    * change criminal justice policy to make fine defaulters and petty criminals work off their sentences on work schemes / community projects with real hard targets. Use this resource for community improvements eg cleaning up derelict areas in cities / towns , graffiti removal, etc. make private sector compete to run these schemes and seek innovative results / options

  • cynic2

    If you devolve them to councils it will be an expensive fiasco.They are not fit to run them efficiently. Privatise them

  • I posted this on another thread but I hope its OK on this one

    I think Unionists need to be awfully careful with this one – “Keep Ulster Different!” seems to be their slogan rather than keep Ulster British

    All the main parties here in GB are interested in reducing costs in the public sector and centralisation is the order of the day, with processing functions being moved to areas of high unemployment, (with a correspondingly large labour pool), functions being moved to areas where office rents are cheaper and other financial matters at the top of the agenda to give the year on year reductions in expenditure that every party wants.

    Surely a good idea to keep NI well integrated in to the UK would be that the civil service should get bigger in NI – centralise processing and enquiry centres where its cheaper to run them – lets face it, its either Tyneside, North Wales or Northern Ireland – why not lobby to have these functions in NI.

    Idealogically sound (for unionists) by embedding NI in the UK, cheap for the treasury and shows NI making a positive contribution to the UK.