In terms of post-recession employment, the young and the vulnerable are suffering the most – but what will we do about it?

Equality Commission for Northern Ireland logoLater this morning, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland will formally publish the results of research it commissioned into the effects of the economic downturn on employment status and prospects.

The research covers 16+ year olds over a period from Q1 2006 (two years before the recession) to Q3 2009 (after which the UK emerged from recession – in Q4 – with a 0.1% gain in GDP).

In many ways, reading the 115 pages of the report confirmed my shallow understanding of the recession. People who’ve never worked – eg, the young – are struggling to get jobs. People who have lost  jobs are struggling to regain employment. Vulnerable groups are finding it tough. And blue collar has so far been worse than white collar.

At today’s launch, Chief Executive Evelyn Collins is planning to say:

Fully understanding the impact of the recession on people in Northern Ireland to date is absolutely vital. Decision makers faced with greatly reduced budgets will have tough choices to make. The data in this research can inform their thinking on the impact of the recession and strategies for dealing with it.

The doubling of unemployment rates for young men may have profound implications for the shaping of our future society, especially where there is a risk of damage to future careers and a possibility of long-term unemployment.

But the background is comprehensive and the statistics are worth studying. (The full report and a short summary are now available from the Research section of the Equality Commission’s website.)

In the 15 years before the recession Northern Ireland experience sustained economic growth resulting in increasing employment and declining unemployment.

That has built us up for a fall.

Over the period April 2008 to September 2009 there was a 2.3% point fall in the employment rate; and of all the nations Northern Ireland had the largest fall of 4.2 percentage points compared to 3.1 percentage points in Wales, 2.7 percentage points in Scotland and 2.1 percentage points in England.

Levels of inactivity (eg, students or those deliberately not working) in Northern Ireland have risen slightly during the recession (40.1% in Q1 2006 to 41.5% in Q3 2009). However, “inactivity remains significantly higher in Northern Ireland than other regions of the UK”.

DETI’s May 2010 figures show that levels of confirmed redundancies are slowing. 3,444 in the year to end-April 2010, a decrease of 19% on the 4,269 the year before. 307 confirmed redundancies in April 2010 and 249 in March 2010 are lower than the 545 a year before in April 2009.

Between 2006 and 2009, levels of employment in the NI manufacturing sector have fallen by 12% (10100 fewer jobs) and 17.9% (7480 jobs) in the NI construction industry. In contrast there has been a 2% increase (10920 jobs) in the NI service sector.

Unemployment levels in every country in the EU – except Germany – have risen since the start of 2008. The greatest rises have been in Spain (18.8%) and Ireland (12.5%).

In Germany employment has actually increased during the recession and it is argued that this was helped by a number of agreements between employers, unions and government that promoted temporary working and shutdowns in reaction to falling demand (Oxford Economics, 2010).

Between 2006 and 2009, levels of private and public sector employment have remained stable. This equilibrium is unlikely to continue.

Where’s the geographic impact? Benefits claimant levels (NOMIS, January 2010) are highest in Derry (7.3%), Strabane (7.3%), Limavady (7.1%) and Belfast (6.7%). Within Belfast claimant levels were already highest in the west and north. During the recession, they have grown most quickly in those areas too.


The effects are being felt the most by the young, particularly – though not exclusively – young males.

The unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds has more than doubled from 9.9% in 2006 to 20.4% in 2009. This is “almost three times the overall unemployment rate and four times the rate for older workers; furthermore it is also above the UK average youth unemployment rate of 18.0%”.

The graphs below show the employment, unemployment and inactivity rates by age in NI.

In Northern Ireland, Young people [particularly the 18-24 age group] have experiences the greatest negative employment impacts …

[NI] men have been disproportionately affected, especially those in young age groups.

Unemployment rates for females have increased from 2.2% (Q3 2006) to 2.3% (Q3 2009), while over the same period, male unemployment has increased from 3.8% to 6.4%.

A far higher proportion of young women [in NI have been] affected by unemployment compared to other age groups of women.

There as been a significant decline in female employment rates in the 18-24 age group.


While there is general evidence that “people with disabilities are disadvantaged in the labour market and have employment rates far below that of the non-disabled population … little evidence exists at the NI or GB level … that people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by the current recession”.


So far “the recession has only had a small impact on lone parents”. However, interviews conducted by the researchers indicated “that there had been a decline in lone parents being able to access employment programmes”. This is coupled with the already low levels of childcare provision in NI compared to GB.

[NI has] only 92.5 day nursery places per 1,000 children aged 0-4 years (based on 2005 mid-year estimates), compared with 195.5 in England in 2006 (ECNI, 2007).


There has been “a decline in employment and a rise in ILO unemployment for both [Protestant and Catholic] communities” though the increase in unemployment for the Catholic community has been slightly greater. There are also age profile differences between the two communities (the Catholic community is younger) which accounts for some – though not all – of the differential.


There is little data on the Black Minority Ethnic population in NI due to its small size. There are reports of many migrant workers in NI “being made redundant or dismissed, mainly due to them being on casual or temporary contracts. However there is little evidence of migrant workers returning home because of the recession, although the number arriving in Northern Ireland has declined.”

The report adds that “should the recession deepen or ‘double dip’ then there may be different response”. Stakeholders identified issues of “lack of awareness of rights and entitlements among migrant workers”.

This was often due to language barriers, lack of union representation, not having proper employment contracts. For example, one organisation reported that they had quite a lot of incidents of pregnant women being dismissed or having their hours reduced, and having difficulty accessing maternity benefits.


There is little labour market data on employment rates and sexual orientation. Similarly, there is a lack of evidence about ex-offenders, though interviews “indicated that, due to the recession, ex-offenders were finding it increasingly difficult not only to find work, but also to enter employment programmes”.


Single people (who tend to be younger) and those who are separated have been most negatively affected by the recession.


One feature that distinguishes the current downturn from previous economic cycles has been the lower than expected fall in employment rates. This seems to have been due to employers implementing savings through wage cuts, pay freezes and reduced hours rather than cutting jobs.

… greater investment in human capital and skills means that many employers are less willing to let go of skilled staff. This however, would mean that the less skilled are just as vulnerable and may be more likely to be made redundant before more skilled workers, as was the case in previous recessions. Although maintaining employment is a positive outcome for many there are a number of negative consequences, not least a reduction in wages, but also possible loss of flexibility, reduction in training and limited career progression.

With NI public sector job cuts only arriving now, and mortgage and loan rates likely to rise faster than wages, the pain is only starting.

And the problem with unemployment is that it has all kinds of consequences that can spiral.

One of the risks of recession is that the unemployed drift into long term joblessness which can be seen as one of the most persistent impacts of a recession. This occurred in previous recessions and it was this group of long term unemployed that proved very difficult to get back into work. The long term unemployed are far less attractive to employers and their skill and employability levels diminish over time. Long term unemployment also brings with it other social problems including poverty, homelessness, ill heath, crime, drug and alcohol abuse and the impact on the wider household.

Stakeholders reported to the research team that “centres and other employment support services. Stakeholders reported that job centres were now having to deal with clients who were highly skilled, had long work experience and no experience of unemployment” but “had expectations about what kinds of jobs and pay they wanted”.

One of the issues reported as facing the newly unemployed was that many of them will not be able to return to the same type of employment, for the same level of wages, and will instead have to transfer their skills to areas of the labour market which may not command such high wages.

The increase in the number of unemployed was also seen as having an impact on the long term unemployed in terms of increased competition from those who are better qualified and have more recent work experience to offer employers. The impact of this has been to possibly put the long term unemployed at even more of a disadvantage in the labour market.

The longer you’re out of work, the harder it gets to find new employment – no matter what sector or role you previously had.

It’s a bleak picture – particularly if you believe that the worst is yet to come – and even more so if you’re young or vulnerable.

It will be interesting to see the political reaction to the Equality Commission’s research. Will any parties articulate policy proposals to reduce the effect on the young and vulnerable? Or will their social consciences be put on the back burner and instead they’ll engage in finger-pointing and doomsaying?

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  • Cynic

    Classic piece from Equality Commission that finds that:

    1 in a recession unemployment rises
    2 those with fewer skills are most affected
    3 it gets harder for young people entering the job markets to get into work s fewer firms are hiring
    4 bears …. woods …..etc

    Now how much did this cogent but useless piece of work cost? Why was it commissioned? By whom? Was there a competitive tender?

  • Cynic – those would just be unproven assumptions if someone didn’t do the leg work to check the figures and prove it was true. This recession isn’t like all others, so do the normal assumptions not need to be tested?

    It was commissioned by the Equality Commission “following a public tender from Professor Ron McQuaid and his team at Napier University, Edinburgh”.

    Besides, the normal rule of thumb understanding of employment conditions during a downturn don’t go down to the detail of what happens to different groups within society that are often disadvantaged by instability.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘there is a lack of evidence about ex-offenders, though interviews “indicated that, due to the recession, ex-offenders were finding it increasingly difficult not only to find work, but also to enter employment programmes”.’

    Another worthless, pointless, over staffed, over paid quango, this time the Inequality Commission, speaks.

    Did we really need a report to tell us that in times of recession and hundreds, maybe thousands, of unemployed graduates, old lags are finding it tough?

    Is there something in the air (or NI water) right now that seems to demand that each time a quango speaks, they kind of prove their worthlessness? The Consumer Council, and now this in the past two weeks.

    At a time of inevitable quango cuts, it appears several are lining up to put their heads on the chopping block.

    This is another pointless body who wouldn’t be missed if they were to disappear.

  • Driftwood

    Tne Childrens Commission have chipped in with vital research of their own:

    The childrens’ commissioner said the clear message was, to consult with pupils, to get political agreement on transfer and to reduce the pressure and stress on pupils.

    Perhaps we need a ‘Commisioners’ Commission’ to look at commissions needs, and complete the circle of lunacy which would finally reveal Northern Ireland as a Lewis Carroll statelet in all its sponger glory.

  • Alan Maskey

    The commenters have said it all. The Quangoites have jobs: recession proof blarney.

  • So Cynic, William, Driftwood – Now you’ve dissed a variety of commissions, what about proposing some policies that would improve NI’s employment situation and reverse the negative effects being felt in particular sectors of society?

  • Framer

    The trade unions, being in hock to the public sector and their staff, are incapable of original thinking or supporting any policy such as job splitting that would take unemployed people, who want to work, off the scrap heap.

    The Labour aristocrats of the public sector and their spokespersons only start foaming when there is insufficient redundancy money provided for those queuing up to sell their jobs

    If the unions won’t support radical policies who will? The quangos and DUP/SF are part of the problem too as they feed off one another and the public and ‘voluntary’ sectors.

  • aquifer

    It was all over for the trade unions when the TUC decided that unions of the unemployed were not real trade unions. All the bosses have to do is turn down the economy and the unions whither. Excepting in the safest public sector and skilled trades jobs.

  • William Markfelt

    You imagine that commissions are actually doing anything to improve the employment situation?

    A bit of media coverage and hey-ho, this expensively produced and stating the bleedin’ obvious report is gathering dust on a shelf next week.

    I’m sure there’ll be some tea and buns launch party for this later this morning while a number of pink-shirted suits swan around spouting empty platitudes about a strata of society (young, working class, not very well qualified) they know nothing about and would cross Royal Avenue to avoid after sundown.

    I don’t actually read anything much above that outlines policies to improve matters, which is where and why the deep levels of cynicism immediately arise.

    Pretty much any of us (pretty much anyone yet to start their GCSEs) could conclude that old lags have it tough finding work.

    But since you asked:

    1. Stop the hand wringing about the uselessness of public sector cuts. It’s long overdue in an NI far too over-reliant on the public sector. Public sector jobs will go. It’s inevitable. And to those who lose their jobs, ‘welcome to the real world’.

    2. Freeze and possibly even reduce business rates. How do Belfast City Council balance their books? Stop throwing money at crap like St. Patrick’s Day and the Twelfth. They’re unimportant, and even less so in harsh economic times. I think people can probably learn to live without that icon of all things Gaelic, Samantha Mumba, ‘singing’ at Custom House Square on March 17th, or some nut-job Orangefest, if the economic circumstances are there to foster more jobs as a result.

    3. Simplification of tax, VAT and all the other pointless paper shuffling exercises that eat up so much of people’s time in unproductive matters. Let them spend more time on the things they do best, making, fixing, selling things.

    4. Foster entrepreneurial spirit. This could be aided by the discontinuation of a whole raft of costly, yet ultimately worthless, licences required to even contemplate setting up business, a series of certificates costing maybe thousands in outlay prior to even turning a penny of profit.

    5. Foster entrepreneurial spirit. Start at school with the notion that, apprenticeship served, it’s entirely possible for you to open your own hairdressing salon, cafe, whatever, in the knowledge that the entire process is simple and financially do-able.

    6. Examine those undertaking non-productive jobs (i.e people in offices) and seeing where large scale cuts can be found. What exactly does a Deputy Assistant Human Resources Line Manager do?

    7. Obviously we aren’t going to re-employ 70,000 in the shipyard, but we do need to rethink the idea that this country can make things and make them well. Boats, bits of aeroplanes, luxury cars. The skills base is obviously there, but not being utilised. OK, we then get into an argument about whether we can make it cheaper than China, but if we’re not wasting huge amounts of cash on quangos, or paper shuffling jobs, then there’s the potential for subsidies of some form or another.

    8. Get away from the idea that it’s a 40 hour week for everyone, all the time. In the past fifty years we slipped away from it being a 6 day, or 5 and 1/2 day week, to 5. Why not 4? Or even 3 day week?

    I’ve little doubt that a coach and four can be driven through some of the quickly scribbled theories, but that’ll do, off the top of my head, to start.

  • William Markfelt

    The Quangoites don’t have a ‘job’.

    They take home a wage.

    There’s a slight difference.

  • > 7. … we do need to rethink the idea that this country can make things and make them well …

    The stat that worried me the most in the report was the one saying that the service industry was still growing while manufacturing and construction collapsed. At what point do we end up creating a real version of Douglas Adams’ vision of a planet of phone sanitisers?

    As you say, there must things we could produce. And more than just wind turbines!

  • Framer

    Your exceptions are about 75% of the NI workforce.

  • William Markfelt

    Yes. Manufacturing and construction are up the creek, but we do seem to like to shuffle paper a lot.

    It’s part of the Thatcher legacy, of course.

    It needs big, radical thinking to change that.

    One of the things that could be done is a rethink of dole office thinking. If some unemployed carpenter is pulling scrap out of skips and making dog houses and selling them for cash, he doesn’t and we don’t need an attitude that seeks to penalise him for ‘earning’, The government need to learn to turn a blind eye and accept that sort of black economy in the hope that the carpenter eventually reaches a point where the dog houses expands into a viable business. That helps the unemployed for a start.

    Of course, one advantage that the carpenter has is useful, transferable skills. People will always need bits of fences fixed, back doors replaced. It’s possible for him to work in a black economy and maybe, eventually, make that viable.

    Public sector, on the other hand. What transferrable skills do they have? None, other than paper shuffling, and realistically they’re useless unless there’s a paper shuffling economy.

    While construction may be screwed right now, it will return to some level of normality at some point. Those skills won’t go away. Paper shufflers, on the other hand, have no valuable, absolutely necessary skills at all.

    As the public sector cuts bite, and bite hard, there are an awful lot of people out there who are going to come to the realisation that they will never have it so good ever again.

    A complete retrain from scratch will be required for most of them, and that goes right to the upper echelons of the likes of the civil service or these quango bodies. There’s nothing there, in employment terms, that is valuable.

  • Cynic

    My point is that the results are totally predictable. This recession is just like all the others in the past and this was wasted money

  • another

    What will we do about it?



    Because when you have politicians elected along sectarian lines; they do not have the common interest at heart

  • Cynic


    1 reduce the size of the civil service by 25% / 50% over 5 years and 10 year respectively

    2 abolish all local councils. In first instance manage services from centre but progressively contract these out so Government becomes a purchaser of services not a provide

    3 revise the planning system to promote growth in small local enterprise parks / developments

    4 invest money saved in 1 and 2 by building said parks and offering training / support / incubation to companies

    5 reform current procurement system to promote contacting by smaller local enterprises and abolish current government bias towards big firms that civil servants find it easier to manage

    6 improve literacy

    7 reform the benefit system to incentive work

  • William Markfelt

    ‘when you have politicians elected along sectarian lines; they do not have the common interest at heart’

    I disagree.

    A cross-party committee produced that report.

  • John East Belfast


    “reduce the size of the civil service by 25% / 50% over 5 years and 10 year respectively”

    I dont think you have really thought this through ?

    I assume you dont mean the Doctors, nurses, teachers, police men, firemen ?

    Then you have all the people who clean the hospitals etc ..

    Therefore if you are just down to paper shufflers I assume you have to exclude the tax office – I am no fan of the taxman but in fairness to them they have taken the brunt of the public service cuts in the UK since the amalgamation of Inland Reveue and Customs.
    I also know that Belfast Revenue & Customs are doing a lot of work for the rest of GB.

    After all of the above you arent left with many people – unelss you sell off a huge chunk of what the Welfare State does to the Private Sector and make them all Private sector employees for doing the same job.

    Making NI a back office for the UK Civil Service is not a bad idea anyway and of course making Londonderry a priority also makes sense.
    ie if the UK Public Sector is going to exist then it should exist in those regions less attractive to the Private Sector.

    Hence having a proportionately large Public Sector in NI is not necessarily something to beat yourself up about if it frees up land and capital (financial and human) in those areas of the UK where it can be better utilised.

  • When the net develops a stage or so further, it will not longer be necessary to imagine “stage directions”.

    In the meantime, allow me to suggest that for Cynic @ 12:05 pm:

    Shrugs. Exits far right..

  • Cynic

    Read it again John. Contract a lot of the work out. The Civil Service is awful at managing things. The change will be painful but we will come out of it with better cheaper servcies

  • Internationalist

    I agree with most of your points William, however, I’m not a fan of subsidies. There should be a European wide ban on government subsidies. Governments just end up competing with one-another (to the detriment of taxpayers) for a businesses to come in that will then up sticks in 3 years to follow where labour is cheapest and where they are getting a new subsidy.

    Also, these companies don’t invest in people like businesses in an efficient market, it is the taxpayer that usually pays for training.

    So ultimately you get short to medium term employment, but it comes at the cost of a an inefficient market, higher taxes and/or inflation to support the subsidies and an unnatural downward pressure on wages in that industry throughout Europe.

    Europe is a massive market so it doesn’t need it. I wouldn’t have a problem with a bit of protectionism for imports coming from outside Europe.

    This mess is a result of sort term thinking its time that it stopped.

  • This is the Suffolk Council “solution”. Are we happy at child-protection being farmed out? Care homes run to a price, rather than a standard? Health and education done on the cheap? Is our personal data invariably safer in the hands of “Nelson” (or whoever he calls himself today) in Bangalore? And I’ve a hundred further queries here.

    A telling example is what happened to the public utilities: electricity in these parts now comes via a French (nationalised) company (who also own the UK nuclear plants), my water is courtesy of an Australian bank, my bus service is supplied by Deutsche Bahn. Back in Northern Ireland I’ll be owing my electricity supply to the ESB (“Ireland’s premier electricity utility”).

    Wonderful thing, privatisation.

  • Internationalist @ 4:16 pm:

    There should be a European wide ban on government subsidies.

    There already is. See Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

  • Johnkingii

    On the same point but as side note I have seen news reports that the days of cheap clothing ie primark due to a crash in cotton production NI has a long a distinguished history in linen production surely there is some scope there also Harland and Wolff seem to be making some inroads into the green industry of wind/sea turbine construction it may take time for it to seep through into large scale employment but surely scope fir optimism there was no large scale public sector DLA/JSA/IS and it goes on in the industrial powerhouse that was Belfast in the late nineteenth early twentieth century not that one wants to go back to those days of abject poverty but a safety net should be a safety net not a live comfortably off the state zone

  • So, which “benefits” would you cut?

    Benefits for the elderly? That’s 42.75% of the total benefit bill.

    Take support away from children? That’s another 17%. Good for your caring, family-friendly image? Perhaps not.

    People on low-incomes (i.e. at or below any reasonable poverty line) that’s another 22.2%. Well, grinding-the-faces-of-the-poor has always been a good Tory principle.

    The sick and disabled? Tread carefully: some, if not the majority of those must be genuine, and they include war pensioners. Even so, there’s 16% if you really can bear the odium of crutches and wheelchairs around Parliament Square.

    That leaves you just 2.1% of the welfare budget to recoup, which sadly includes help for bereaved widows, and industrial death benefits. I wish you well on those.

    Unemployment? Ah! All those stay-at-homes watching day-time TV behind closed-curtains. Yes, there’s a lot made of that: the grand total of 1.15% of the welfare bill (and likely to increase after the “cuts” push more out of work).

    In other words: looks good as a tabloid headline, but you’ll need very hard on your PR.

  • The Raven

    William, you really have stopped taking your pills, haven’t you?

    “While construction may be screwed right now, it will return to some level of normality at some point. Those skills won’t go away. Paper shufflers, on the other hand, have no valuable, absolutely necessary skills at all.”

    …along with retail staff, I suppose? People who do the admin for insurance? Who’s next on the hate, I mean, hit list? You know that most of the colleges are winding up their City and Guilds courses in brick-laying, carpentry and joinery and painting and decorating?

    Return to normality? What do you countenance as being normality, anyway? “Quick – there’s a field – BUILD ON IT!!!!” Yeah…that served us well. Oh, and “skills”? Did you see the quality of what was being knocked together and sold as a “house” towards the end of the boom? Even at the beginning of the boom? Dog-sh*t, and you know it. There are very few proper tradesmen left – we abandoned that set of skills a very long time ago, and it isn’t coming back.

    As for whatever fool up there said about doing away with Councils….what percentage of savings do you think you’d make from the abolition of Councils from the NI pot? I’d be interested to hear. You’ve been told before, but that won’t matter. Also, ring your local council and ask how much of what they spend is put out to the private sector. Provision of bin lorries? Landscaping and public realm improvements? Training for small businesses? Right down to the purchase and indeed distribution of the paper they shuffle. But what odds? Who cares, cos it’s only some paper shufflers out of a job, isn’t it? Oh…maybe not…

    Alan, there are many things we can build and build well. There is an issue. We need to build it on the basis of quality, and sell accordingly – “it’s better than the Chinese build it”. And until there is a sea-change in terms of “how cheap can I get it for?”, from food up to tech and everything in between, it’s never going to change.

  • BelfastBorn

    i think even a cursory reading of the article shows that there is much more to this that cynic’s comments seek to portray… for example, the article notes that this recession has impacted more on younger people, whereas previous recessions tended to impact on older workers. If this is the case, the policy responses this time around will need to be different.

    AlaninBelfast’s article also seems to set out how different groups in NI are being effected… which at least offers the possibility that policies can be developed to target those groups at most risk… if younger people miss out now on in work training and skills development, where will we be in 10 years time when these same workers are needed to drive the economy…

    so, as per alan’s closing comment.. it will be interesting to see how government respond, and in particualr how increasingly scarce resources are allocated to help those most in need.

  • William Markfelt

    Yeah, Raven. I did say that it was relatively easy to drive a coach and four through quickly dashed off theories for the purpose of responding to Alan.

    So well done for doing just that.

    ‘Return to normality’…we’re living in a time of great upheaval, perhaps the greatest since the Industrial Revolution? The Victorians? The immediate post-war period of rebuilding?

    There’s still skills there, and a skills based to be tapped into. I don’t quite care that colleges are closing carpentry courses, they’re still more useful than Tourism qualifications because they can be utilised, if not now, in the future.

    So where do we utilise them? We rethink the entire sector. We rethink it in terms of unilaterally, with a relatively virgin government and political system in place, redefining our housing and our civic planning and getting a jump on everywhere else. Of course, it might just fall flat on its face completely, but we’ve given it a shot.

    How do we do this? Let us rethink the humble house, in terms of energy efficiency. Let us get our brightest minds and graduates developing better, cheaper insulation materials, something that can be encouraged locally and maybe, just maybe, sold to the rest of the world. Why not? Think big.

    The alternative is to say ‘oh, let’s follow London or Dublin or Brussels lead’. Why? Why can’t we say ‘the rest of the world does it one way, we’re doing it another’?

    Why follow the models set by others, if not in ambitious insulation plans, then on the things we can achieve. Car use, for example. How doe we tackle that within the context of the NI Assembly? OK. Here’s what we’re doing. Bus fares in the greater Belfast area are 50p. That’s it. 50p. No off peak on peak nonsense. A bus ride’s 50p. Now….sit down and make that work. Let’s make it work, initially, on key arterial routes…Shore Road, Antrim Road, Shankill Road, Falls Road, Lisburn Road, Malone Road, Ravenhill Road, Cregagh Road, Castlereagh Road, Newtownards Road, Hollywood Road.

    11 routes offering 50p flat rate. Even limit it to rush hour. Let’s try it. Let’s see how we change the city. Let’s see how we reduce car use. let’s see how we improve traffic flow, health, better air all through that. Let’s try it for a six month period. Let’s underwrite Translink’s costs while we try it out.

    Let’s do something!!!!

    Big radical ideas. More bus drivers, less paper shufflers.Let’s stick conductors back on the buses because a two man team’s going to make late night travel feel safer (for pasengers and crew alike). You know?

    Just try something to reinvent NI’s economy rather than have some blethering about ‘they’re shutting down carpentty courses’ or ‘paper shufflers need loving too’. It all smells of a status quo and small-mindedness in an approach to how we reinvent and revive and economy in a time of great challenge.

    We sell OUR thinking, OUR ideas and OUR vision rather than following others like sheep.

    Again, a coach and four can probably ride through some of this, so go for it if you wish. Alternatively, what about some theories, however wild-eyed, about how we meet the inevitability of large scale public sector job losses in an already over reliant public sector economy.

  • The Raven

    William, my post is genuinely NOT status quo thinking. It’s just a bit of a reality check.

    EVERY Secretary of State for the past twenty years has said the sector needs trimmed. Robinson no more than two years ago blustered how he was going to take it in hand. And yet, no one has done anything.

    To say that the civil service are all paper shufflers is a bit trite. Something like a third of DARD run their own businesses – the fact that they are farms is neither here nor there. People talk about cutting the administrators in hospitals. There aren’t as many as you think. They ARE the perpertrators of much of the paperwork, but at the end of the day, it’s the doctors and nurses that end up filling them in.

    But if you DO want to lessen them, and many of the rest of them in departments, then there needs to be less targets, less equality monitoring, less economic appraisals, less “five pages to fill out to order a chair”. And for those getting the push? It needs happen over a five year period as you have said. They need to be trained and readied for a new career.

    Otherwise they just end up on a scrapheap costing the state more in dole, in health, in housing, whatever. See, my problem isn’t people trashing the public sector in general. It’s people trashing the public sector because they don’t know any better; or worse still, don’t take the time to find out; because it’s someone’s fault that in a time when unemployment here was at 15%, they got a job in the civil service; and because it’s an easy target to bash without any thought of the medium to long term consequences.

    “Just try something to reinvent NI’s economy rather than have some blethering about ‘they’re shutting down carpentty courses’” is glib beyond belief. We need these trades, and we need them to be taught as craft trades. We need to go back to a time when to become a carpenter, you served proper time, and were taught a craft – not just how to nail two planks together. Problem is, there’s probably only a handful of people left who can teach that, and nowhere for them to serve that time.

    That said, you’re right. It’s time for new ideas. Only we can’t rely on the big four to come up with them. So that means it’s down to you and a few others who are slightly more reasonable than a lot of the commenters in here. So when do you run for elected office…?

  • Greenflag

    Drift W,

    Perhaps we need a ‘Commisioners’ Commission’ to look at commissions needs, and complete the circle of lunacy which would finally reveal Northern Ireland as a Lewis Carroll statelet in all its sponger glory.

    WM ,

    A bit of media coverage and hey-ho, this expensively produced and stating the bleedin’ obvious report is gathering dust on a shelf next week.


    we’re living in a time of great upheaval, perhaps the greatest since the Industrial Revolution? The Victorians? The immediate post-war period of rebuilding?


    It’s part of the Thatcher legacy, of course.


    We rethink it in terms of unilaterally, with a relatively virgin government and political system in place, redefining our housing and our civic planning and getting a jump on everywhere else. Of course, it might just fall flat on its face completely, but we’ve given it a shot.

    end of

    The above ‘quotes’ are just a few of what struck me as a genuine tread trying to take a practical look at what can be done in present circumstances to get NI from a 70% public sector situation to one closer to say 40% or even 30% .

    Has the thought struck anyone that it may just not be possible given present constraints ? Who would not be in favour of cutting down government waste and making the production and delivery of basic services -health-education etc more efficient and effective ? Who would not cry out for more ‘entrepreuneurial ‘ spirit from the ‘masses’ which would reduce the State’s burden . The questions being asked in the above tread by commenters are all questions which cannot just be asked in NI but elsewhere from the USA to Vladivostok and states /not straits in between . NI’s public sector dependency predicament goes back a long way .

    William Markfelt touched on the point of ‘we are living in a time of great upheaval ‘ As he said himself earlier re the report that’s restating the ‘bleedin obvious’.

    This ‘upheaval’ has been underway for a couple of decades worldwide . It was finally brought to fruition by the excesses of the financial markets and the complicity and ignorance of elected political representatives around the world but particularly in Wall St and the City of London .

    Today in the USA a proposal is being made that any company which exports American jobs overseas will be subject to a higher tax at home in the USA . The USA (the world’s former leading entrepreunerial role model) has 17% real unemployment and lost 8 million jobs in the immediate aftermath of the Wall St collapse . THis will sound like a good move to some voters . If it were to have been done it should have been done 20 years ago . Now there are few jobs left to export the capital accumulation over 20 years will simply go to investment projects i.e new companies in China , India etc wherever a better return can be made .

    What I’m trying to say not very well I suppose is that any economic recovery be it in NI or ROI or the UK or the USA is going to be dependent on getting or returning the ‘financial institutions ‘ to having some sense of social responsibility and being subject to proper oversight .

    As I see it right now -neither the Obama administration nor Cameron’s in the UK have made any great strides in that area . Instead the banks are again ‘creaming’ and they would like to return quickly to the good old days when ‘profits’ could be printed on CDO’s and derivatives in advance to make the quarterly figures appeal to the gobshites sorry shareholders .

    Good tread above though -No doubt some worthwhile ideas for follow up . At least it shows that some people are waking up to the harsh economic realities facing NI at this time !

  • Cynic

    Very happy with some things but you will note my target is 50%> some things will stay in hosue iof opnly because the priovcate sector could nebver get insurance to do them. Other s can go out. For example, why does the Council itself have to:

    * empty bins
    * run events
    * deliver H&S services
    * run cemeteries
    * licence dogs

    Bear in mind that with dog licensing for example we have 26 councils all doing the same thing!

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Bear in mind that with dog licensing for example we have 26 councils all doing the same thing!’

    An exceptionally good example of how we can practically reduce ‘waste’. How many dogs are licensed across NI each year? 40,000? At…£10? (both figures guessed, I honestly don’t know) So, £400k income.

    And let’s say two employees doing a) the licensing and b) the dog catching. At £10k per annum each (plus the likes of Carrick with its Pound, which I won’t even factor in as building and staff costs) So that’s £20k, per council, x 26 = £520k.

    Economic sense? Economic nonsense?

    If we;re going to licence then there’s animal charities who could do it, or even a centralised agency (3 people at £10k a year – £30k plus office and postage costs. Total outlay, £50l?)

    Perhaps someone will know the right sums involved, but I imagine that it could be done more competitively out to tender, and centralised.

  • John East Belfast


    I dont think you are saying that the Authorities should not ensure the bins are collected and the dead are buried.

    The question is whether they do it themselves or whether via some form of competitive tender they get the private sector to do it.
    The assumption is the latter will do it more cheaply and by introducing competition then you will never have the situation if you get a bit lippy with your binman you will find yourself boycotted for a while.

    I am not convinced the private sector will do a better job.
    For a starters they will need a 10% Profit Margin so you have that to find befiore any cost savings.

    Secondly the same people managing the competitive tender process and making the decisions on who get appointed are the same people who are apparently mismanaging the council staff who should be doing it at cost.

    I am not saying there arent savings to be made in Govt in NI but I dont think the Private Sector is the panacea you think it will be and also the sort of % you are quoting are OTT.

    I dont think NI’s problem is that the Public Sector is too big it is that the Private Sector is too small – and I dont think the type of Private Sector we want to expand is transferring public sector jobs to it

  • And I didn’t even have to pay you to say that!

  • William Markfelt

    ‘when do you run for elected office…?’

    As soon as I work out how to best ride the multiple jobbing gravy train, Raven.

    It’s not in Robinson or anyone else’s best interests to even tackle it. And part of the reason is because, if we’re talking waste, there’s no better example than the NI Assembly itself. Once he starts on about public sector waste the three obvious and indefensible words are pot, kettle and black.

    Why 108 of them to oversee 1.5m people? (at £50k per annum) Wales, with a larger population, manage on fewer. Scotland on a pro rata basis, is managing with less. So what’s the deal here?

    Yeah, I know all about the tribal protectionism argument, that if you reduce councils it makes for a green west of the Bann and orange east of the Bann. Another argument for another day, perhaps.

    But did I read that Stormont employs more people than the White House? Great, isn’t it?

    The simple fact is that redundancies will outstrip any capacity to retrain people (and to retrain them for what?) so it’s going to get very tough out there.

    Nevertheless, I’m not buying Robinson’s ‘special case’ argument. More to the point, neither will the Exchequer. NI will be expected to swallow its medicine like everywhere else.

    Ultimately though, while we may argue about cutting benefits here or there or wherever, the public sector is well set up as -you’re right- a soft target ripe for a good kicking. We still need our bins emptied, running water, electricity, the dead buried and so on. There’s obviously places where you can’t cut without turning NI into a third world country, but equally,there are places where there can be obvious and quite deep cuts made, regardless of how tough it is for the paper shufflers. We simply can’t afford to retain them doing near non-jobs, and their loss will, while increasing the unemployment register, result in a leaner and fitter workforce and economy.

    The Cabinet Office has already announced huge cuts in quangos for England and Wales. It’s our turn next, and I suspect the only tears being shed are those in cushy and largely irrelevant and disappearing jobs inside those quangos. Will there be sympathy on this forum? Or in the wider public? I suspect not.

  • Framer

    Benefits are available because others work and generate profit. If there is less such income then they and the public sector must be cut back.

    With your reasoning Redfellow they should be doubled.

    One small cut would be the removal of DLA and all but the most basic benefit from alcoholics and drug addicts. Or are they ‘ill’?

  • Greenflag

    The term post recession above is a misnomer . The worst has yet to come . Here’s an American view of what the present situation is and the outlook . Readers in ROI , NI and the UK may wish to take note for while we may be on the other side of the pond the underlying economic forces which caused the recession and helped prolong it also apply in this part of the world .

  • > The worst has yet to come.

    Won’t that technically be the next recession – usually triggered by a number of quarters of downturn trending before it tips back up. I used “downturn” and “recession” interchangeably.

  • Greenflag

    Alan ,

    Once upon a time about half a decade ago to be precise Mr Greenspan and his followers were calling ‘recessions ‘ a thing of the past . Since then Mr Greenspan has ‘apologised ‘ for not seeing the writing on the wall .

    By 1998 when it came to matters of financial regulation Wall St was speaking to the converted i.e it’s lobbyists , government and policy makers. Finance had become a highly quantitative field that only the Wall St bankers and their backers in academia (including multiple Nobel Prize winners)had mastered . The elected politicians (including the then President and subsequent presidents) were in effect ‘puppets’ or ‘muppets’ if you like . Anybody who criticised or questioned the conventional wisdom was dismissed as a crank or luddite . Derivatives , CDO’s , Credit Default swops etc etc were the tools of the new prosperous future . Summers (now gapping it back to safety academia) Rubin, and Greenspan were the Gods of Mammon and their word was as good as good as gold .

    We know different now or do we . The reason I say the worst is yet to come is because until the entire financial sector is reformed and subject to the democratic control of elected parliaments in the USA , UK and elsewhere the ‘banks’ will simply repeat the 1998- 2007 cycle . In fact many of the bigger ones Bank of America and Citibank and Goldman Sachs are well on their way . They need ‘breaking ‘ up as do the credit rating agencies and the entire ‘credit business’ in the USA .

    With 25 million unemployed , and housing foreclosures again on the increase with the highest number on record being registered this year -with falling median incomes and with Housing equity and retirement savings in decline and two bottomless war pits being dug in Afghanistan and Iraq for never ending waste etc etc etc – I suppose it’s still possible for economists to claim the recession has ended technically .

    But then ‘economists ‘ have a record in predictive outcomes which seem to closely resemble those of gypsy fortune tellers 😉

    Economic recovery from seven of the last eight recessions in the USA was built on a recovery in the broad construction sector . With 8 million foreclosures in process and millions more on the brink due to increased long term unemployment the outlook for the next several years from that sector is grim .

    The middle classes in the USA have been and are continuing to be emisserated which is why those who look for a recovery in ‘spending ‘ to restart significant economic growth will be disappointed . The money is simply not there . Wall Street banks and the Stock market and a couple of trillion dollar wars have gutted any sense of financial security which most americans had .

    Technicalities don’t matter any more not that they ever did apart from those who reside in that arcane world .

    The most bizarre of all ‘remedies’ so far concocted by American politicians is the new GOP pledge to America which is a rerun of the Bush era i.e keep making the rich richer and the poor poorer and that way at least a few of the people (our people ) will be happy . I suppose they hope that a war with Iran should help boost domestic demand just as Iraq and Afghanistan did . The fact that they’ll borrow another trillion to fight such a war is neither here nor there ? Sure they’ll just lower taxes on the rich so that the poor can pay for that war as well as well as the privilige of dying in it 🙁

    It’s gone beyond semantics Alan or if you prefer economic jargon exactitude .

    I’m re reading some Hamish McRae articles from the mid 2000’s . I find them strangely ‘optimistic’ in today’s economic thought wasteland .