Whitehall ” too busy ” to deal with First Ministers – claim

 The fairly dismissive  Verdict of my colleague, devolution expert Alan Trench, on the rainbow coalition of FMs’ call to scale down the cuts.  But note the flier in the FT that the phasing may be changed in a direction they favour.

Adds Friday. Warm words from deputy PM Nick Clegg about the likely impact of the cuts  on a familiarisation visit. Extracts:

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister raised with me in very clear terms their concerns about the possible impact of the deficit reduction plan we are setting out on capital expenditure in Northern Ireland,” he said outside Stormont Castle on Thursday.

“I have said that I will go away with colleagues in the coalition Government to look at this. We understand their concerns, we’ll look at them but obviously I can’t provided detailed assurances now because everything is still being decided upon before October 20,” he said.

“It would be wholly wrong not to recognise the very special circumstances in which NI finds itself and to be particularly aware that a society ravaged by conflict needs to have a sense of hope in its own economic future to entrench peace.”

Not sure how Eamonn’s tweet  flagged by Alien in comment below relates.  

Alan Trench extracts:

   The devolved governments now clearly see no advantage in holding their fire.

The real question is how the UK Government will respond – if indeed it does. I’ve already noted the limited and declining capacity of UK Government to engage with devolution issues in a coherent or strategic way. Most of Whitehall will, in any case, be too busy to deal with this. The likelihood is that it will simply be overlooked, or perhaps receive the sort of acknowledgement that indicates it’s not actually going to have an effect. Joint declarations are all very well, from a devolved point of view, but will require some sort of sustained campaign to have a tangible impact. Perhaps this should be viewed more as the first step in the 2011 election campaigns that as a démarche in intergovernmental relations.

Perhaps a more interesting question about the Spending Review is this. Why aren’t any of the territorial Secretaries of State on the Public Expenditure Committee that is resolving disagreements between Treasury and spending departments? Membership is one of the rewards for departmental Secretaries of State who have agreed their spending allocation with the Treasury already. Block grants are notionally paid through the Secretaries of State to the devolved administrations, so they do have a stake in this arguments – and one which implies it’s their job to present devolved concerns more than the devolved governments themselves. It’s hard to see how this doesn’t apply to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Secretaries, who don’t have any direct stake in the review at this point as the block grants are determined as consequences of spending agreed for other departments. The bitter truth appears to be that none of them actually matter enough to be on such an important committee. Those who think that Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland continue to benefit substantially from retaining ‘their’ Secretary of State might wish to note this powerful indication of their lack of influence within Whitehall.

That’s telling it about Owen Paterson’s clout with the Treasury! Perhaps he’ll speak up and prove us wrong?

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

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