Cuts now or later – decision urgent

Cut now or later? As late as last Friday, Sammy  was uncertain. So were the Welsh,  but not the Scots.  Alex Salmond is clear for postponement as all three sets of leaders meet in Belfast to discuss a common approach to a total of £700 million cuts for all three devolved areas. The other two should beware of getting drawn into Salmond’s cat and mouse politics  For him it may be better to face Scottish voters next year blaming Westminster for hard times. He is now against full implementation of the Calman report.  A recession is no time to introduce 10% tax raising powers for Scotland, never mind independence. This strategy is irrelevant to Northern Ireland’s interests. With much more to come from April 2011 the onus is on the Executive to explain why NI’s share of cuts should not begin now- all the more so, if these cuts turn out to be largely cosmetic and concentrating on quangos,  publicity and a freeze on recruitment.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would have to save £704m – although they would have the option of deferring savings until the following year, Mr Osborne said.

    And local authorities – which will be expected to save £1.165bn – will be given more “flexibility” to find savings as “ring-fences” around government grants are being removed.

    As far as I can immediately see, that’s all I can extract from the Osborne/Laws statements so far. At this moment, there does not appear to be a full supporting explication on the Treasury website.

    What interests me is that “option of deferring savings until the following year”. Does that means these are “one-off” savings? Hmmm … unlikely. Else we can double-up for the following financial year (2011-12), which turns the pain into excruciating agony. Certainly, at some stage, that goes beyond:

    … if these cuts turn out to be largely cosmetic and concentrating on quangos, publicity and a freeze on recruitment.

    Sell that as mere “cosmetics” to this year’s cohort of graduating students.

    Does anyone have a better steer on that yet?

  • Cynic

    ‘Excruciating agony’


    This is total nonsense. The Planned Budget for 2010/11

    was set at £18.2bn expenditure + £1.6bn capital ie a total of £19.8bn. This cut of £128m represents 0.6% of total planned expenditure. Given the rampant waste in NI government this is easily achievable but I expect our politicians to show their usual leadership and defer.

  • Mick Fealty

    As cynic says below, this is still chicken feed. Plus, I notice they’ve not cowped to Tory activist demands to get rid of all the RDAs. Anyone looking for Thatcherite cuts to pin on them is going to be sorely disappointed by this government.

  • Local Government Officer

    Haven’t seen the full detail of anything, but my knowledge of how Central Government (which is where the money is in NI, not Local Government), this is really very achieveable. Even a “doubling-up” the following year can be done without too much “excruciating agony”. It’s just time for Stormont to get real about the little bubble it’s been living in for all these years.

  • Neil

    Certainly should be achievable through the cutting of a few pointless quangos, and maybe cutting pointless literature like Belfast City Matters which comes through our door and seems to be Belfast City Council trying to justify themselves and pat themselves on the back so the plebs know how lucky they are to have their bins lifted. Fortnightly. So long as the lid’s shut and it only contains rubbish that’s been washed etc.

    I wonder how much these things cost and how quality would be sacrificed should they put it on a website and do as they do in the private sector and assign the work to existing council staff with a wee bit of free time. It’s just one example, of which I’m sure there are dozens.

  • Hold on. Hold on.
    The real meat hasn’t been sliced … yet. This lot have promised to be more ruthless than the milk-snatcher ever was.

    Health, welfare, education, policing … and NI’s unique opt-out on water?

    That’s more than top-sliced the block grant.

    So the 0.6% isn’t. It’s out of the “discretionary” spending, the “disposible income”. And it’s not out of a 12-month budget when 2-3 months of the financial year are already gone. And it won’t be “just” 0.6% out of the 2011 budgets.

    Anyone who thinks this is “cosmetic” isn’t buckling down to Finals (and looking sideways for a job), isn’t a part-timer covering the bills at the local library or college or healthcentre or wherever, isn’t coping with a special-needs child, or has an elderly relative in need of day-care, isn’t dependent on those occasional contracts from the local authority …

    As for all those alleged “drones”, wait until you need a planning application cleared, or a case of e-coli investigated, or a street-lamp fixed, or a tree trimmed, or anyone of the multitude of other tasks that somehow get done as part of that paper-passing bureaucracy. Street-level provision is a wee bit more profound than [yawn!] the Daily Mail regular rant about dustbins.

    This was no more than the shoelace: both shoes have yet to be dropped.

  • Framer

    Irish exception applies. No cuts now or ever.

    Bin collectors who doze in side streets for hours will continue to be treated with kid gloves by frightened managements.

  • Cynic


    Do grow up I am afraid. The free lunch is over.

    The figures I quoted were Total Budget. You talk about ‘discretionary spend’ but there’s huge waste in the non discretionary too.

    Why are so many people here on DLA? Are we that much sicker or is fraud simply much higher?

    Why when we had agreed to cut councils will the Executive not now implement the cuts to save millions?

    Many of our agencies providing services are over staffed. Sickness levels are above the UK average for comparable units.

    Huge amounts of money are simply wasted. I used to work in a charity providing services to a Government department. Every year the Department spent 20 – 30% of the value of of our Grant on consultants checking up on us and producing endless reports on what we had achieved for the money. These were administered by layers of civil servants who had little else to do. Look at the number of agencies here that have collapsed through rampant fraud and mismanagement.

    Why are we spending over £9m a year advertising Government jobs and public notices when an internal web site could do the whole thing more efficiently and for next to nothing? In fact, for jobs, we have the web sites and often put the jobs in then but then also pay 3 (yes 3) local papers to advertise them as well. Why 3 papers – because press readership is divided on community background!!!

    And while we are at it, why are so many services provided in house in NI? why aren’t they contracted out where the price could be guaranteed?

    You infer that every cut must be matched by a cut in service. Given what happens how that may well be true. But it will be true because our politicians are capable of managing and let the civil servants get away with it.

  • Cynic @ 2:05 PM:

    “Growing up” is a bit too late for this near-septuagenarian. Still, I’ll try to hold back on the senile drools.

    I’m not doing, as you do, arguing from the personal and particular to the public and general. I’m merelt referring to Brian Walker’s pertinent intro:

    Cut now or later?

    One person’s cut is another’s job, promotion, service, even survival. And this little lot is merely the softening-up. Watch the BBC ticker for the additionals that didn’t quite get mentioned in these curiously-attenuated statements. Next up, the speech from the throne. After that the butchery in the emergency budgets. Salami, anyone?

    Even your examples, Cynic @ 2:05 PM, have another side to them.

    Those oh-sooo-deplorable advertisements in different newspapers serve a function: they help to preserve an aspect of local culture, which might, just might, be a desirable local service. Don’t bleat when you’ve lost your local paper of choice.

    Isn’t there a small inconsistency between demanding less inspection, less control and incidents of “rampant fraud and mismanagement”? Was there less of that when we had the Thatcher and Major governments panicking about youth employment, urging local authorities to try any, please!, job creation schemes? Funny how that rhetoric went out of fashion about the same time as the Cones Hot Line.

    And since we’re all agin it, you might like Carl Hiaasen’s latest piece, flaying Big Guv’ment.

  • unionistvoter

    Remember the next csr period will show a reduction of around 10%. There is a need to get seriously real about public sector spending and service delivery. Remember also that water isn’t free, we pay for it out of the block grant and we have also had a freeze on the regional rate for the past few years. Our government at Stormont has chosen to keep the costs to the individual to a minimum and make the savings in areas like health and education.

  • A voice of reason there, and it’s from unionistvoter @ 2:53 PM.

    Again, note Brian Walker’s prescient starter: Cuts now or later — decision urgent.

    Except, of course, the point is: Cuts now and later — decision not in our hands.

    Meanwhile, consider the worldly wisdom of Stephanie Flanders. She, too, seems unconvinced that these are “cosmetic” cuts.

    She spotlights the education budget:

    the chancellor is still looking to cut the schools budget by £670m.nFor the department as a whole, that represents only a 1.3% cut in current spending – when others are having to find cuts of 3 or 4%. But when you take out core spending on schools, Sure Start and 16-19-year-olds, there isn’t a lot of education spending left. Local authority grants for education are going to be cut, and so will spending on higher education, even allowing for that £50m additional investment in further education colleges that was announced at the same time.

    Back to chalk and talk? Tuition fees? Non-vocational courses? Bring your own toilet paper?

    Then, all you bureaucrat-bashers and free-enterprise types, take heed:

    A large share of the cuts – around 27% – will come not from civil servants but from private sector contractors. The Treasury is expecting to save £1.7bn on delaying, stopping or renegotiating private sector contracts.

    Now I’d happily nominate Boris’s Routemaster replacement as one obvious candidate. Would that be a welcome “cut” at Wrightbus in Ballymena?To create a conjoined cliché: And so it begins … be careful what you wish for.

  • MN

    So the arguments against cuts are that local papers will die because of a lack of public spending and Wrightbus might suffer.

    Just hold on one second – this is *our* money being spent or (worse in my opinion) money being borrowed in our names to be spent.

    The UK public debt including PPP and public sector pension liabilities comes to £80,000 per household (source Radio 4 PM 4th May). That is money owed by us and spent on things we have no control over.

    To use the examples above – if I want to support local papers I will go out and buy them rather than have the money taken from me by government and applied on my behalf to the said proprieters. That would work out a great deal more efficient than paying a whole department dedicated to public advertising, one or two large advertising agencies and a raft of ‘scruitiny’ on top.

  • Cynic

    ” small inconsistency between demanding less inspection, less control and incidents of “rampant fraud and mismanagement”?”

    No there isn’t. It depends on how you set up the services, define what it is you are trying to achieve, demand management information from them and manage the contract. And that does not demand reams of consultants. very often the impression was that this was simply a back covering exercise by officials ‘in case’ . It was always intereating to to see how much of the ‘research (such as it was ) was done by fresh faced new graduates paid £30k a year but the report was ‘written’ / signed off by consultants and partners billed at £1000 + / day

    As for the job ads maintaining local culture, I assume you are meaning the Bel Tel’s support of teams of Romanians risking their lives in our central reservations to sell adverts for furniture cars and houses wrapped around a meagre few pages of local ‘news’ that most punters saw on TV or read on the Internet 5 hours earlier

  • Cynic

    “the Treasury is expecting to save £1.7bn on delaying, stopping or renegotiating private sector contracts.”

    ….too bloody right. If you want an example read the MODs accounts for last year and especially their audit of equipment.

    We have also managed to buy 2 aircraft carriers to take a new seaborne fighter bomber that doesn’t yet exist and, even if we can ever afford it, is too big to fit on the ships designed for it, severely limiting its usefulness.

    We are committed to buying the Airbus Heavy Transport aircraft that was supposed to carry heavy battle tanks into combat zones. Unfortunately the plane a bit of a porker and is now far too heavy to meet its specification – so we are buying something that cannot do its intended job.

    Then there’s the Department of Education where there were something like 80 schemes all targeting the same group of 16 to 20 year olds, all overlapping in objectives, with no central coordination, no evaluation and costing hundreds of millions.

    what about the ID card system – costing billions and of little practical use

    The list is endless – the accumulation of 12 years of failed initiatives and decisions that labour were afraid to axe because it would expose what a shambles they had been.

  • Cynic

    Wrightbus is unlikely to suffer. It produces real things but can anyone explain why it was VFM to bung £50m of my and your cash to Blackpool Tower?

  • MN @ 4:34 pm;
    Cynic @ 5:18 pm:

    I’m just reading abut the major RTA on the Thornthwaite bend, heading from Keswick to Cockermouth:

    At least one three person[s] has/have died and the ambulance service suggested dozens of people have been injured.

    Both the coach and a car are believed to have overturned, and a number of vehicles, including a lorry, were involved in the collision.

    Two helicopters were sent to the scene and the road has been closed at the Thornthwaite turn on the A66.

    So: no need for well-financed, well-run, exttravagant public services, there, then.

    Equally, let’s not confuse capital expenditure (which is funded) and current expenditure (which isn’t). Now, shall we refresh our recollection as to where jobs and advertising belong? Not going to make much difference to that debt pile, is it?

    And that pedestrian crossing, with its school-time attendant. Dearie me: that’s public expenditure. Let’s rip it up, let the traffic whizz by, and make the little tykes run across sparkier. The guys and gals from the OAP home might be a bit pushed, but — hey! — it’ll save on the pensions bill! There’s a few pence more for your kitty. After all, utilitarianism rules: the greatest good for the greatest number.

    Oh, and what’s wrong with sending a man up an unsupported 50 foot ladder? It was OK in Victorian times; and look what was achieved then! All this HSE nonsense — political correctness gone raving bonkers, I say!

    And here’s a really good one: let’s have an Efficiency and Reform Group, a new board to oversee cuts, pulling in all those under-employed senior civil servants across Whitehall. Not a Quango, of course. [Haven’t had a laugh like that since I was summoned to a meeting to discuss holding meetings — but that, of course, was in the days of Mr Major and his Sound Money].

    Alternatively, we could try to raise the argument a shade above the level of the bloody tarmac that’ll now need unnecessary local government along the A66.

  • Now here’s a list of departmental cuts: notice what’s missing? Yeah! Defence! So all of those gold-brickings you mention, plus Trident, are safe! [Until, like TSR2, Blue Streak, and all the others in the meanwhile, they suddenly aren’t.] But, then, what would The Sun say if Our Boys didn’t have nukes to keep them cosy?

    Do try to keep up to speed: ID cards have been binned (until someone spots the chronic need to rebuild the National Insurance database and to control illegals).

    By the way, we’ve already ticked off eddicashun: £670M, mainly to be taken out of 16+ provision … just as you wished. On the other hand, there’ll be all those “free” (but highly-expensive because they’re double provision) schools where fundamentalism, creationism, chadors, burkas and much, much more can be promulgated and enforced (with “light-touch” supervision, but natch).

  • The biggest single item of committed expenditure for Blackpool Regeneration is £73M for coastal protection (some of that ERDF money). Do you object to the tram renewal? Or is it just the £11M Sea Change money? The Tower is listed Grade One (like St Pancras station: was that, too, a folly?) and is private operation run by Center Parcs.The Talbot Gateway (10 hectares, 160,000 m2 of retail and business space, £220M) is still at consultation.

    Funnily enough, I’m in favour of investing in regeneration: look at what it’s doing for Belfast, and what it ought to be doing elsewhere.

  • Local Government Officer

    You also pay for a portion of it from your domestic rates.

  • Local Government Officer

    Any money spent on built heritage is a drop in the ocean. If it was done correctly – which in a lot of cases, it isn’t – we could actually be saving money in the long run. Just by the by, remember that those lovely edifices of steel and glass which people like INI sit in, are discounted to zero value after 25 years, rendering them to the value of the steel and dust. Many of the buildings cleared to make way for them were good for another 100 years. It’s a small point, but worth making to an Environment Agency that knows very little about utilising such buildings.

  • Local Government Officer

    I believe either I or another person mentioned £9m being spent by central government in “advertising” each year in papers. So let’s spend £500k on a new website, and a couple of civil servants to man it, for all NI central government advertising. Result!

    BY the way, MN to be fair, I think it’s three people in OFMDFM that handle it, as opposed to “a whole department”.

  • Procrasnow

    what about all those works of art we heard about that local government departments have in storage never seeing the light of day. they could raise a quid or 2.

    As we are soon enough going to pay for water why not install meters now, give employment, simulate the ecomony

  • Procrasnow

    what about all those works of art we heard about that local government departments have in storage never seeing the light of day. they could raise a quid or 2.

    As we are soon enough going to pay for water why not install meters now, give employment, simulate the economy

  • Cynic

    You only need to spend £500k on it if you let the Civil Service run it. And why not do a deal with a free existing site like, Gumtree. No admin, no overhead

  • Cynic

    Who said that? You are out of your tree, I am afraid.

    You seem unable to distinguish between important services that should be funded and the dross that shouldn’t.

    Shroud waving isn’t an argument and in the circumstances is disgraceful

  • Local Government Officer

    Yeah but I was counting in their pensions, the health and safety work, the PPP finance on the webspace….


  • Local Government Officer

    Oh! Just noticed this:

    “Why when we had agreed to cut councils will the Executive not now implement the cuts to save millions?”

    Errr see below. Again.

    “Every year the Department spent 20 – 30% of the value of of our Grant on consultants checking up on us and producing endless reports on what we had achieved for the money.”

    Aha! Some sense. A colleague of mine up in Coleraine did an FOI on the cost of the NI Audit Office. You should do the same. You would be shocked at what it costs and how it has grown over a three year period. Also he asked what the value of fraud was that they had uncovered. They couldn’t tell him as they “don’t measure that”.

    “And while we are at it, why are so many services provided in house in NI? why aren’t they contracted out where the price could be guaranteed?”

    Half agree here. You only guarantee the price, not the quality. For every one that is run well, you will find two that pull a fast one. I’ll send you some examples sometime. It doesn’t always work. Also you’ll find that – for example – very few local companies bid for the services. And the brouhaha starts about not supporting local… A4E, anyone?

    “Why 3 papers – because press readership is divided on community background!!!”

    Why? Because the Equality Commission makes us. Take it up with them. They seem to have the ear of Stormont when no one else has.

  • Freya

    Having seen some of that public art, I very much doubt it Procrasnow! 😉

  • Neil

    You only need to spend £500k on it if you let the Civil Service run it. And why not do a deal with a free existing site like, Gumtree. No admin, no overhead

    LOL too true. Why could a government IT department not be self sufficient, doing private contracts and paying for itself to complete the necessary work the government requires? Think of it, a government department generating money, instead of spending it! In the end up though a web site could be set up and run for a very small amount of cash.

  • daisy

    Merge DEL into Dept of Ed.
    Merge DCAL into the sea.

    Why do we have a central procurement department but then have SIB?

    Make sure senior civil servants are taking the decisions they’re paid to and if they’re not (ie relying on consultants) then sack them.

    And that’s just for starters.

  • Brian, Hi,

    I think I heard Peter Robinson saying yesterday that it would be madness to cut the public sector without first having a replacement from growth in the private sector.

    Seeing as how there has been no such replacement, is Mr Robinson going to go down the madness route, which would confirm to everyone that he is no leader of anything …… although to be fair to him, that which he heads in N Ireland is no better presently than a collection of clueless expensive tools, living lavishly off the Public Purse and producing nothing, not even ideas to create a future reality which sees wealth brought to the island?

    What he needs, and Martin too, of course, is a chat with an expert in that virtual field, for they are able to solve such complex problems quite simply, and put Northern Ireland and its people, on the map.

  • Mick, Hi,

    Re that post which was posted, but which didn’t appear even for the extremely short time that it would have taken for me to copy it and file away in space for other to read elsewhere …. fear not hosting the truth as defined and expounded by others who are more than ready, willing and able to defend their right to share it and your right to host it, for you cannot be held responsible for every Tom, Dick or Harry who would venture a widely held opinion proven valid by events.

    That’s one of the problems blighting society today …. too many folk talking around a subject rather than tackling it head on and clearing the decks to allow for something better to take its place.

  • Chris

    Lke a lot of you are saying – TOO many senior civil servants – too many ordinary civil servants not doing real work – stats for the sake of stats – and can anyone explain why in NI we have 2 executive officer grades compared to 1 in GB — these additonal EO’s beng merely messengers for their managers and getting paid K£25 of our money – AsK the people who the work in the Civil Service – Clerks, AA`s and they will tell you where the waste is,