Northern Ireland can set its own priorities for spending cuts, but cannot avoid Osborne’s axe

Only a dyed in the wool  political bigot could deny that the new Conservative-Lib Dem coalition has made an impressive start. In just a few days, they‘ve shown what a proper programme for government can look like if it’s made by politicians actively engaged in it, rather than fighting old battles. Anyone who doubts the continuing importance of Westminster should think again. 

 NI MPs should be relieved they don’t have to shore up a rickety Labour-led coalition with  unrealistic  spending demands that would have infuriated  the majority of English in all parties  and weakened their own position long term. Unity among NI politicians is all very well but blind resistance over NI’s share of new Chancellor George Osborne’s £ 6illion deficit reduction plan amounts to a declaration of impotence. The Executive should prepare its own programme to protect priorities over and above the existing £370 million already cut. Water charges cannot be far off. During the election campaign Peter Robinson predicted a further reduction of £200 million. This is unlikely to be the last.

There may be  a few consolations in the emergency July budget. Health spending in England is to be ring fenced and a pupil premium to help poor families is promised. As the programme for government puts it

 ” arrangements that will protect those on low incomes from the effect of public sector pay constraint and other spending constraints; and protection of jobs by stopping Labour’s proposed jobs tax”.

While NI controls much of its own spending, it is funded in line with English priorities. This allows the Executive to spread the burden of cuts according to its own priorities,  but not avoid them. The real crunch will come when the numbers are revealed in the comprehensive spending review in the autumn. 

On the Belfast stop of his lap of honour, David Cameron must spell out the impact of a succession of cuts amounting to £163 billion for the UK as whole. NI leaders shouldn’t sit back passively and leave it all to him. But they should also sup with a long spoon with SNP Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond who is organising a campaign of resistance to the new cuts.

Alex has his own agenda, which is to boost his faltering independence campaign by setting up the Tory led coalition to take the blame over as many of Scotland’s ills as possible.  The coalition in turn is calling Alex’s bluff by promising to implement the Calman report to give Holyrood 10p in the £ income tax and other limited powers. These could be on a ballot paper along with independence. But in hard times, who really wants taxation powers – “fiscal autonomy?”

No one with any sense st Stormont.

 From Alex Samond’s  letter to David Cameron

In my discussions with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat shadow chancellors before the election, I secured commitments from both that there would be no further reductions in the 2010-11 Scottish budget beyond those that have already been announced.

We therefore expect the UK government to honour the plans in place for Scotland’s public services this year. There are other specific areas of the Scottish budget, for example guaranteed access to end-year flexibility and access to a jobs fund, which are of importance.

The Scottish government is also clear that an incoming UK government should undertake that no change would be made to the current system of financing devolved government without consultation and agreement with the devolved administrations.

In the discussions referred to above with the shadow chancellors, one was able to give this assurance. One was not. In the interests of a constructive relationship between our governments, I hope it will be possible for you to confirm this assurance.

As I said, I am copying this letter to the deputy prime minister, and also to the first ministers and deputy first ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland.

  • Michaelhenry

    its the revenge of the torys, no tory or lib dem was elected by the people of the six counties last week, even the D.U.Ps tory candidate was not elected in fearmanagh south tyrone, now the tory hit back has started, the tory and unionist health minister here has got his orders from the tory leader, hurt the people, this was done by closing two A and Es to day, return of the torys starts now.

  • It’s worrying how many more jobs will be lost province-wide.
    It will take combined force of Stormont to fight these cuts continually and prepare measures for damage limitation. As it stands unemployment is high enough in the North let’s hope alternatives will be provided for all. It’s unsettling to think how this will effect the quality of life in areas of disadvantage,,,

  • Greenflag

    When the fit hits the shan it’s those at the bottom of the hill who get hit the worst . This was always the case . Mr Cameron’s stated ‘values ‘ i.e

    ‘Freedom , Fairness and Responsibility ‘ sound tailor made for the times that are in it .

    I’m looking forward to hear his comments re how ‘responsibility’ will be introduced into the City of London’s hedge fund purveyors and other assorted types ?

    What he means by freedom I’ll leave to other’s imagination . Fairness sounds good . NI will probably lose about 50,000 jobs by the year’s end and hopefully that will be it . As to the reinvigoration of the local private sector and it’s enhanced role to remake the local economy via reduction in corporate taxes etc well I would’nt hatchet any counts yet .

  • Greenflag

    A Cockney and a Dubliner friend decided to visit Lough Neagh on a fishing trip . When they reached the lake they saw two people having difficulty in the water and in danger of drowning . A group of people had just gathered but seemed not to want to do anything .

    “Why that’s Peter Robinson and the other fellow is Reg Empey ‘ says the Cockney as he ran into the lake and reached out to both men .

    ‘GIve me your hand ‘ he shouts to Peter . ‘Give me your hand too’ he shouts to Reg . But either the pair did’nt hear him or did’nt trust him and they carried on sinking ‘
    The Dubliner then waded in and shouted out to both .

    ‘Take my hand ‘ Take my hand ‘Like lightning Peter took his hand own followed by Reggie a few seconds later .

    The Cockney was astonished .
    ‘Tell me ‘ he says to the Dub ‘How come they heard you and could’nt hear me ‘

    ‘Simple my friend ‘ says the Dub . I know this sort . They only know how to take and you were asking them to give ‘;)

  • Solitude

    It’ll be interesting to see how SF confronts the issue of dealing with a Tory government, unlikely that they’ll get the same friendly welcome as from Labour

    Perhaps that’s why they were so keen to get P&J devolved before the election. There aren’t too many big diffculties on the horizon (apart from marching), so it may not be too much of a problem for them in the short term.

    things would look somehat different if the Assembly hit the rocks but is there anything pending that would cause only SF any great political diffs? Defending the block grant and opposing cuts will be a joint effort by the Exec, so any fears SF might have about the British Govt “honest broker” approach might not be tested for a while

    So unless dissidents gain some traction and there’s a distinct London-directed security response, there might not be too many opportunities for direct SF-Tory confrontation. SF have more or less worked through their devolution tick-list; there’s not much more that London has to deliver or arbitrate,

  • Glencoppagagh

    No jobs need be lost. How about pay cuts instead. Such an all-island approach should appeal to Sinn Fein at least.

  • The same A&E’s that were penned in for closure in September 2009?

    Or does that not fit with your hysterical commentary?

  • Brian Walker

    The new So S will have little to do except nurse the parties and spin. I doubt if we’ll see much of the Downing St shuttle for SF alone. However all is not lost!

    Cameron- and Clegg who now has a direct NI interest – I’m sure will set a new tone to compensate for the fact that the Tories are almost unrepresented in Scotland and of course not at all in NI. This is already known as the “respect” strategy form the Conservatives, ” the party of the Union”.
    How ironic that it’s the Lib Dems who are the sole UK party to have a local MP affiliated to them – if we exempt, as we must, the SDLP who take the Labour whip on those occasions when they vote.

    Stand by for a charm offensive over the next couple of weeks and more on reducing NI’s’ “semi detatched” position in the Union.