Dealing with cuts “will present the Executive with its biggest policy challenge to date”

There’s been much public posturing from the two main [mandatory] coalition parties here following comments by the Northern Ireland First Minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson, about the expected cuts in public expenditure.

Reported attempts by the deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, to play down suggestions of a split appear to have fallen on deaf, non-Ministerial, ears within his own party.

Mark Devenport tells us that

DUP sources reckon there’s a difference between the public line being pushed in Sinn Fein’s news releases and what they are hearing in private from their counterparts in the Executive.

And, although we know that some departments have failed to provide requested details to the NI Finance Minister, we’re also told

Assembly sources have made clear that preparations for budget reductions are ongoing within all departments, including those with Sinn Fein ministers. The party’s non co-operation stance appears to be mainly limited to not giving the Department of Finance documentation on spending priorities.

Ministers from all parties did take part in a special “away day” discussion on cutback options in July at Greenmount College near Antrim.

Added to such ideologically opposed [in theory] parties now joined at the hip [in practice] we have some outside [trade union] agitators attempting to enter the fray.

Will they be stamping their little feet all the way to the next election?

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  • fin

    indeed Pete….

    “Priorities for ringfencing identified by the Minister, Nelson McCausland, include the Ulster-Scots Academy, an IT project for libraries and the World Police and Fire games, due to be held in Northern Ireland in 2013”

    and….

    “….So what departments, if any, should be protected from the cuts? Health Minister Michael McGimpsey is not in any doubt.

    “If people are in pain and distress, we have a duty and obligation as a government to look after them,” he said.

    “As far as I am concerned, and the people of England, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland are concerned, health should be ringfenced.” …”

  • Neil

    Reported attempts by the deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, to play down suggestions of a split appear to have fallen on deaf, non-Ministerial, ears within his own party.

    Don’t see where there could be a split within Sinn Fein. They both seem to be saying the same thing, i.e. rule one of negotiation – give nothing away.

    We know there are cuts coming, and we know that this place will be disproportionately hit due to our over dependence. So maybe the idea that we don’t prostate ourselves at the Tory governments feet saying ‘do with us what you will, we’re ready’ especially given the large number of public workers here is a good one. Maybe every little scrap of respite from Westminster will be felt all the more acutely due to our piss poor starting position.

    Or maybe the DUP are correct to encourage the Tories to take as much out of NI as humanly possible (after all the locals won’t complain, at least the local politicians won’t, not being short of food, heat or a couple of sharp suits).

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Give the Finance Minister credit he will round them up and keep them in line.

    The UK is borrowing at nearly £20,000,000 an hour and it has to end sooner or later. The Executive will have in the end to take what they are given, the real squabbling will start after the departments find out what the necessary cuts are going to be.

    Health v. Education will be interesting to watch.

  • slug

    I think it is a massive challenge.

    Surely, to simply cut each department by the same % would be strategically stupid. Yet it is what this type of government will find politically convenient.

  • Driftwood

    Would anyone actually DISAGREE that there should be 1 (secular) primary and secondary level education system for all here- ie similar to the FE Colleges and Universities.. Save a LOT of money and cut out a lot of the sectarian bullshit.

    And if you vote in parties that want to keep sectarian schooling and funding for Irish Language and the absurd ‘Ulster Scots’ then don’t complain when you’re put on a 2 year waiting list for surgery and care for your elderly parents is cut.

    Parties and politicians that support stupid parades where they are not wanted or who turn a blind eye to illicit fuel and cigarette smuggling also need to wise up.

    But sure if we can’t be arsed with that then blame the Tories (that Thatcher was a right cow…)and mutter down the pub about the unfairness of HM Treasury not increasing the DLA.

  • medillen

    Keep who in line? your kidding right?

  • Reader

    Neil: So maybe the idea that we don’t prostate ourselves at the Tory governments feet saying ‘do with us what you will, we’re ready’ especially given the large number of public workers here is a good one.
    We are a devolved administration wholly funded from central government. In the final analysis, the only form of resistance is for ministers to sign bad cheques at the end of the financial year. That would make even resisting SF ministers extremely unpopular with their departments when the pay cheques bounced.

  • Pete Baker

    That’s not the suggested split referred to.

    As you’d know if you had read the linked report at that point in the text.

  • Driftwood

    Welfare and Benefits are ‘technically’ a DSD -Alex Atwood- function. But, like everything else at the playstation assembly, it’s not really. Like everything else, it comes under the REAL government at Westminster.

    Stormont ‘functions’ something like a virtual reality game on Facebook. Farmville.

    So reality will kick in late October and despite much gnashing of teeth, Farmville will try and postpone the truth until after the May 2011 elections. Whether they can cover the fact that they have no power to obstruct the REAL government will be down to how the NIO manage the local media.

  • Neil

    Very true, so the only way we have of improving our position if even only slightly is to attempt to convince the Tories that due to our over dependance on the public sector any cuts hit harder here, and that any respite will also be felt all the more acutely.

    Of course the Tories can laugh at them and send them on their way with nothing but the SF suggestion that we don’t hand over our negotiating position on day one and just take what we’re given is a fairly good one. It’s not like the DUP to accept anything as a given and go along with plans it doesn’t like in return for nothing.

  • slappymcgroundout

    Pete, on an unrelated note, re those fines that are owed, or the return of the ill-gotten subsidy or whatever such is properly called, what happens if the money is not repaid, or at least not right away? Assuming that such can be done without major consequence, well, that would be one way to keep some money at home.

    Lastly, while I wholly appreciate the need to live within one’s means, etc., to drop the budget by 25% given your current circumstance is quite simply inhumane. And I am sure that Sammy means well, but isn’t it but odious when humans who won’t be suffering the pain speak to the pain that is sure to come for some others. And for the consummate in failure to face reality, from The Guardian:

    “[James Knightley speaking: Indeed, our key concern is that private sector employment gains may be more than fully offset by public sector job losses.”

    I don’t suppose that James has considered that govt expenditure fuels demand, to include govt workers spending their paycheck dollars on consumer goods, services, etc. So, yeah, some great mystery as to what will happen to private employment when the demand goes down owing to govt spending less and former public workers having no money to spend. Double dip recession anyone? Mark me down for that for you all. You can’t drop 25% and expect to avoid that as your fate, you just can’t.

    Almost forgot, but for the mother of all insanity, as a US Republican, might I ask, has everyone forgotten those salient words from the immortal Dick Cheney, to wit: deficits don’t matter? So you all there get the point before the pain comes, our lowest deficit to GDP ratios here in the US were, ironically enough, cruelly so, during the Great Depression and during the wonderful era of stagflation under Jimmy Carter, when deficit to GDP was a tad below the 30th percentile during the Great Depression and a tad over the 30th percentile during the era of Jimmy’s glorious stagflation. The highest ratio of deficit to GDP was in the Truman era following WWII, when the deficit to GDP ratio peaked at a US high of 120%. So don’t think for a moment that deficit to GDP ratio determines the strength or weakness of the economy since our two weakest eras in the last century were precisely when the deficit to GDP ratio was at historic lows.

  • The Raven

    While I fell asleep just at the start of the last paragraph, you do raise an interesting point, which I was thinking about only the other day.

    “So, yeah, some great mystery as to what will happen to private employment when the demand goes down owing to govt spending less and former public workers having no money to spend.”

    Transfer that to a very micro level. Take your average middlin’ town in NI – with a a Jobs & Benefits office, a Council office, a DARD office, maybe a County Hall, an MOT centre, etc etc etc. There’s going to be a knock-on.

  • Glencoppagagh

    The kindest and also the most rational approach would be to cut public sector pay without forced redundancies. That would pull the rug from under the trade unions’ self-serving arguments about protecting services.
    At the same time it would narrow the differential between public and private sector pay.

    This solution should have particular appeal for nationalists who favour an ‘all-island’ approach to matters economic.

    It would unfortunately require a high degree of political courage of which there is little evidence.

  • Neil

    Dodds, adopting a negotiating position:

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/uk/cutbacks-must-reflect-terrorist-threat-nigel-dodds-14950298.html

    I guess he didn’t get the memo telling him to adopt the position.

  • Neil

    Wow! Looks like those pesky Shinners might have been onto something, some flexibility is available after all.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-11428546