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?

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  • Cynic

    Or perhaps Paterson just agrees with the Treasury that these 3 Governments have had it far too easy for far too long and need to take their share of the medicine.

    Perhaps they could all picket Gordon Browns constituency office in Kircauldy to complain that he created this situation by his reckless spending?

  • Alan Maskey

    How much would scrapping Stormont save? Makes much more sense down sizing that gravy train than cutting other payments.

  • Dewi

    The point is that we should be involved pre-implementation. – or he’s asking for trouble.

  • Craig Broon

    I despair of Brian Walker. Ministers are ‘rewarded’ with Star Chamber places once they’ve AGREED with the Treasury, ergo if they haven’t yet agreed with it, they don’t sit on it. How is this complicated? How is it hard to understand that by virtue of the very fact that he hasn’t settled, and isn’t sitting on the Star Chamber, that Paterson is holding out for as large a settlement as he can get? Risibly poor stuff.

  • Cynic

    Who is asking for Trouble? What are you suggesting? we all go out and riot to protect civil servants?

  • Cynic

    Id prefer to scrap all the Councils

  • joeCanuck

    Wot! Put Stormont in charge of everything? You do want your household rubbish picked up efficiently and timely surely. Then there would be the cost of designating your wheelie bin and replacing the black ones with orange or green ones.

  • Cynic

    Contract it all out. We could then have prod bin men for their rubbish and catholic bin men for the Catholics. Well, we do it in schools don’t we so why not elsewhere

  • pippakin

    I cannot see the coalition cutting the norths allowance by much. The alternatives are far more expensive.

  • Barely a month ago I drew attention here to the Scotland on Sunday story that Cameron and the Scottish Tories were not speaking to each other:… senior figures in the UK Conservative Party no longer consult or communicate with their Scottish colleagues.

    As a result, Scottish party leaders have been virtually shut out of all decision-making roles and they are no longer invited to top-level strategy and policy meetings.

    A few days after that, Salmond had to pull rank even to get his Scottish fishing minister empowered to talk to the EU minister, rather than being represented by:

    UK Farming Minister, Jim Paice or Caroline Spelman, the Environment Minister with a flaky expenses record (nannygate) expenses and an interest in GM foods.

    It makes one wonder where, in UK waters, there’s a stray fish left.

    So the devolution triumvirate now, too late, in marking their territory, are doing far too little, far too late. For all the talk of a “Big Society”, this Cameron administration is increasingly southern-counties toffs ruling like 19th-century aristocrats, laying down the law for lesser beings, and expecting deference. As we saw this last week, even the Tory faithful are getting antsy: when the best a Tory Chairman can say is, “This Conference wasn’t a car-crash”, things are pretty bad.

    Get used to it.

  • Quite what credentials would justify Owen Paterson’s right to be Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, which one can surely expect to be more the SMART Championing Voice rather than a Wining and Dining Parliamentary Lackey’s Messenger Drone, is not at all clear and indeed, there may be none …… http://www.owenpaterson.org/record.jsp?type=requiredPage&ID=2

    That is hardly what Ireland or UKGBNI , or anywhere for that matter, needs …… another Non Entity peddling Party Political Dope.

  • Gareth

    We don’t really need two first ministers on call all the time – other devolved administrations cope with one. McGuinness or Robinson should be sent over to Whitehall on permanent harrying duty. Would justify having two rather than just for reasons of symbolism.

  • “NI needs a foreign minister”.

    Discuss (especially from a “unionist” perspective).

  • Cynic

    Its very simple. He’s a part of the Conservative Party. He was elected to Parliament and they have a majority so the PM appointed him as Secretary of State because he thought him the best person for the job.

    This is called democracy. If you wish to know more there’s a good article on Wikipedia


  • Cynic

    Despair makes you will. Laughter is the best medicine

  • Malcolm,

    It needs a Special Intelligence Service, for the knowledge they are presently using is well past its sell by date and rank rancid.

  • Err, no.

    No single party in this parliament had a “majority” (i.e. FPTP seats). Cameron does not have free rein to instal his hacks in any office without some kind of nod from the LIbDims.

    Patterson and Swire (neither rated a “hot shot” by their party colleagues, I gather) are pretty unique in Whitehall in that they do not have a LibDim political commissar to keep an eye on them. Which tells us that both elements in the ConDem coalition regard NI as a petty colonial territory not worth much effort or talent.

    No, Cynic @ 9:21 AM, one struggles to spot the spirit of “democracy” is this little carve-up.

  • Critical Alien

    In this context, what are we to make of Eamonn Mallie’s recent tweet?

    “Nick Clegg says neither the First or deputy First minister raised the
    £18b capital spending guarantee with Chancellor G/0sborne. What??”

  • wild turkey


    any nominations for norn ironlands ambassador to the Bermuda Triangle?

    “i’m making a list
    checking it twice”

  • wild turkey @ 1:24 pm:

    Intriguing thought. My thought was less about Santa Claus comin’ to town than Ko-Ko in “the Mikado”:
    I’ve got a little list — I’ve got a little list
    Of society offenders who might well be underground,
    And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!

    I know I’m the worst for wandering off-topic in these threads. However, an irrelevant and tangential question —

    One of the last persons of (being generous) “distinction” sent in that direction (actually to the Bahamas, not Bermuda, and doubtless closely chaperoned by British “intelligence”) was the Duke of Windsor. Knowing the British capacity to accumulate titles like fleas on a scabby cur, he must have had an Irish/Northern Irish title. Did that also get abdicated?

    Is it true that, or all the governments consulted, only de Valera’s saw no objection to the marriage to Mrs Simpson? Was that only on the basis of “could give a damn”?

    Again, apologies that you lot are so provocative of ideas.

  • Cynic


    There is a senior and a junior partner in the Coalition and if they really thought that I suspect we would have had a Lib Dem SoS

  • Cynic

    Its all in the optics….. they went to London so they must have been fighting for Norn Iron and not shopping in Harrods

  • Cynic

    Oh god. Brian has now managed 3 posts on essentially the same issue

    First we get the meat and then 2 bowls of gruel made from the scraps

  • Instant correction to the above @ 2:02 pm:

    Of course, once I saw that in hard, unchangeable pixels, I spotted my error.

    De Valera didn’t take office until 29 December 1937. The abdication was a year earlier (10 December 1936). If anything that adds a dimension to my question. I can understand de Valera merely ignoring the business, but did Cosgrave?

  • Cynic @ 2:06 pm:

    Ah, the Etonian fag-master system defined! A two-tier government: warms the cockles of every Tory heart to have someone on whom to look down.

    So, in a different dispensation/carve-up, we could have got Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon. Now there’s a thought.

  • Brian Walker

    malcom you’re wandering all over the place in more ways than one. Dev took office on 29 JAN 1932 and registered indifference to the abdication in December1936 while disapproving of divorce. The abdication gave him a cue to introduce the 1937 constitution. But why are we here?

  • Brian Walker

    cynic An update and two different aspects. And all for free! If you don’t like, keep scrolling! My aim is to inform as well as elicit erudition.

  • Ignore previous posts. Apologies. Main mind track on Shadow cabinet appointments.

  • Here is an Underground Riposte, Malcolm, …. and a Live Invitation to Media Change ……
    ….. for does not Media Present Rule and Reign ……. Power and Control …. AudioVisual Semantic Programming?

  • Oops …… this is missing in the above …… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp6-wG5LLqE

  • A little further evidence and earnest opinion for the above ……. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0091906903/ref=nosim/cryptogoncom-20

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: Which tells us that both elements in the ConDem coalition regard NI as a petty colonial territory not worth much effort or talent.
    Well, it’s ages since Labour took Mandelson away too.

  • Cynic


    Regurgitating bits from the Gruinard isn’t erudition

  • Cynic


    Of course. Why else do you post in here old chap

  • Alias

    Looking down on others is an unfairly disparaged activity in my not so humble opinion…

  • joeCanuck


    Elitism? I thought you took me to task for that a week or so ago because of something I said and you misconstrued!
    Mind you, I know that I am a better driver than most, an opinion of themselves shared by over 70% of people self-reporting.