Spending cuts prompt Peter’s move on political reform. Will it work?

So Peter is moving on this at last. What’s not clear is his next move other than into thin air.  Cutting the sizes of the overblown Assembly and Executive is an appropriate  aim with additional political motives. It follows on the  proposed reduction of Westminster seats and Stormont constituencies to 15 and the reduction by one of the MLAs in each constituency. Peter’s timing suggests he has given up on getting agreement with SF and the other parties  behind the scenes. Or did he seriously try? Is he hoping that the rumbles of support for Assembly reform from Owen Paterson will bear fruit in that quarter?  Not without dealing with SF’s veto they won’t. So far going public had met with Martin’s straight rebuff , well short of  outright rejection. This was Open Unionism’s assessment of reform last month.

 However what is undeniably true is that a 72-member Assembly would decimate the UUP and SDLP, possibly to the point of destruction. The fact that doing so would fill a mere £5 million of the black hole in public finances that the UUP estimate to be £1.7 billion and the SDLP £2 billion, is one that is never publicised and as a result the debate is hideously ill informed. It also does not throw a flattering light on the First Minister’s intentions.

Such cuts would raise other big questions. Do they increase pressures  to convert the unionist and nationalist blocs into single parties? If so, can they be resisted?   How can fewer MLAs be reconciled with Peter’s vision of an eventual “voluntary coalition” other than with Sinn Fein? And what does SF have to lose that explains their objections other than to the “solo run” itself? I look forward to D’Hondt and constituency analyses from the anoracks.

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  • Greenflag

    Mr Robinson’s view of a ‘voluntary’ coalition ‘ is in sharp contrast to previous DUP views on power sharing being mired 30 years in the past .

    The concept of ‘voluntary coalition’ for NI is stuck between two worlds -one almost dead (the world of NO – No to power sharing -No to the Irish language -No to the GAA – No to anything which would compromise the ‘Union’. And that other world which has yet to be born -the world of normal politics -trust and constitutionalism minus the threat of guns or backsliding etc .

    108 MLA’s is I would think probably the minimum amount of politicians that are needed to find ‘ministerial ‘ talent to fill the ministerial portfolios . If there is now scant or non existent opposition in an Assembly of 108 how much will there be in one of 72 ?

    Not a good idea and certainly not a good idea if the objective is to decimate the UUP (they can do that all by themselves anyway ) and the SDLP .

    NI is a long way from coming ‘unscathed ‘ through such a radical shake up . Give the present system another decade at least to settle down . If it’s fixed ( and relatively speaking it is for now ) there is no need to break it for the sake of 5 million pounds . imo . Another generation’s problem and hopefully a more tolerant and wiser generation.

  • slug

    If there are 3 fewer constituencies that means 18 fewer MLAs without changing the number per constituency.

    A redesign of the number of departments is not a problem – the GFA did not specify how many there would be.

  • Drumlin Rock

    just a thought, if the constituencies are cut to 15 but 6 seats remain in each would that require new legislation?
    Cutting the MLAs in reality is probably not that great a value for money, but reducing departments should make more of a difference.

  • unionistvoter

    Reducing departments in itself will not create great savings. However the benefit in restructuring them is to create more effective and efficient government. For example creating a single Dept that deals with all aspects of education and is motivated by serving the people rather than maintaining lines of demarcation. Imagine how much more effective planning would be if it wasn’t divided between DRD, DOE and OFMDFM. However where Peter has missed the point is that I think all the other parties will seriously want to discuss the detail which he has so far failed to deliver. Maybe time for some of the other parties to put their ideas on the table first.

  • the old Manxman

    There’s no reason why the seats for Stormont have to be the same as the Westminster ones. They aren’t for the Scotland Parliament and probably won’t be in Wales.

    It will all depend on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmbills/063/11063.i-ii.html

    which is about to start its committee stage. I suspect they may be waiting to see what opinion is in Northern Ireland and also how many constituencies it will get – 15 based on General Election figure, possibly 16 on current registration. The decision will be based on the register of this December.

    If I was a NI politician I would also be complaining that, because registration is individual in NI, but household in the rest of the UK, NI is at a disadvantage. As we saw when individual registration came in the numbers on the register plummeted, so in comparing NI with the rest of the UK you’re not comparing like with like.

    So the Assembly could retain its current system based on 18 seats or have it altered. Either way the decision will have to be made soon. Some sort of decision will also need to made on local authorities as well (yeah, I know), so the NI Boundary Commission can try to match constituency boundaries up to ward/council one.

  • slug

    “There’s no reason why the seats for Stormont have to be the same as the Westminster ”

    Yes there is: simplicity.

  • john greene

    Would it be too cynical to say this idea of cutting depts and MLAs is a populist smokescreen to hide a useless assembly.
    Even more cynically could the DUP and SF be arranging these rows to keep each others supporters happy?

  • joeCanuck

    GF,
    That’s assuming that the party proportion of hacks to good politicians would remain the same in a reduced Assembly.

  • Alex Gray

    The savings to be made from shrinking the number of MLA’s is just empty tokenism. It would be better to make Stormont a Unitary authority handing ALL of Northern Ireland’s affairs and abolish all the councils – they cost more than three times what 33 MLA’s which Robinson proposes cutting will cost. Keep 108 MLA’s but let them do everything. Get rid of ridiculous councillors who do nothing and who are getting no more powers to speak of under council reform anyway.

  • joeCanuck

    …who do nothing…

    But isn’t that true of a significant number of MLAs?

  • Alex Gray

    What matters is putting structures in place whuich cost less. There are over 400 councillors and they claim a substantial amount in expenses. If tehre was ciouncil reform the proposals was to pay them £25k a year to £35k a year. If 108 MLA’s governed the entire shooting match of government functions here, then that would replace the hundreds of councillors. Stormont would get a great deal busier and become more sensible dealing withe ordinary issues and would not be pretentious and pretend to be a parliament with all the flummery which goes on when a vote is take for example,

  • joeCanuck

    If you start off by saying “Well cutting that will only save 20 million so forget that and cutting that other thing will only save 7 million so no point in that ..” and so on, you’ll get nowhere. Whoever said, take care of the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves was a smart cookie.

  • Alex Gray

    A couple of years ago when the DUP first mooted a cut in the number of MLAs rumour had it that their number crunchers had worked out that if they could get Stormont down from 108 to 72 MLAs – in those days 4 per cosntituency x 18 then that would leave the DUP in a good position and push the UUP down to single figures. Now they have reinvented it as 5x 15 = 75. The whole thing was a power play by the DUP who could alwys be relied on to follow the past of narrow self-interest. There is no dounbt that a unitary authority at Stormont would create majoe savings and would wipe out an entire tier of government. Like the health service it is only by wiping out an entire tier of administration that you can get worthwhile savings. Wipe out the councils, concentrate all functions in Stormont and get rid of twon hall money wasters.

  • Alex Gray

    Sorry for typos ! A couple of years ago when the DUP first mooted a cut in the number of MLAs rumour had it that their number crunchers had worked out that if they could get Stormont down from 108 to 72 MLAs – in those days 4 per constituency x 18 then that would leave the DUP in a good position and push the UUP down to single figures. Now they have reinvented it as 5x 15 = 75. The whole thing was a power play by the DUP who could always be relied on to follow the path of narrow self-interest. There is no doubt that a unitary authority at Stormont would create major savings and would wipe out an entire tier of government. Like the health service it is only by wiping out an entire tier of administration that you can get worthwhile savings. Wipe out the councils, concentrate all functions in Stormont and get rid of town hall money wasters.

  • barnshee

    Turkeys will not vote for xmas. The only hope is that the English taxpayer-who funds all the armpits and armchair warriors in Scotland Wales and NI-says fuck off an leaves -and takes his money with him

  • Seniorhas

    Not only is there lack of talent in the local sector but also at the Civil Service level too. However, I totally agree that we have too many layers of government. Not only can they be reduced on financial grounds but it could mean better governance and better joined up thinking together with a cull of civil servants at the senior levels.

  • joeCanuck

    The “Government of N.I. was just as useless when there were only 50 or so MPs. Why would anyone think that doubling the idiots as well as the intelligent make any difference?

  • Greenflag

    Only hope ?

    In that case the local NI politicians will revert to Home Sectarianus Primus (the original state of the local NI species) and will then consume each other and the general NI citizenry in an orgy of conflict which would make the recent troubles look like a amateur boxing bout .

    NI does not yet have that degree of cross community consensuality that would allow a major pruning of the delicate political balance .

    JC,

    If the governance was useless when there were only 50 MPs and is now equally useless with 108 MLA’s and 18 MP’s and 3 MEP’s why would it be any better with 72 or 75 MLA’s ?

    Perhaps people expect too much or too little or perhaps the problem is not the politicians themselves as the ‘polity’ or state they are elected to serve ?

    While I’m all in favour of more efficient government there are political and societal limitations at play in NI which do not exist in Scotland or Wales or England . Even Mrs Thatcher recognised that simple fact when she ‘ignored’ JIm Molyneux ‘s demand for Finchley style ‘integration’ into the UK .

  • Alex Gray

    The original point in having the Assembly 108 strong was to ensure that nationalist pockets of population in the east of NI and unionist pockets of population in the West of NI were represented. Otherwise you would have a situation where quite sizeable unionist and nationalist communities were not represented at assembly level. This meant that unionist communities in Fermanageh and Tyrone and so on did not feel abandoned in a sea of nationalism and nationalist communities in Down and Antrim did not feel abandoned in a sea of unionism. This was important and certainly more important than cutting the Assembly and leaving a whole tier of councils there with all the expense associated with them. look at the town halls they have built – marble palaces and a total waste of ratepayers money just to massage the egos of a load of local councillors. Spening money at Stormont level is far more acoountable with the Public Accounts Committee which si very hard hitting and the Audit Committee. Councils are big spenders and are far less accountable – just a quick glance from the local government auditor once in a while. .

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Didn’t the DUP scupper a reduction in the number of councils over fear that Belfast would be majority Nationalist?

    It is therefore reasonable to presume that self-interest lies at the heart of this apparent conversion to concern over efficiency.

  • barnshee

    “It is therefore reasonable to presume that self-interest lies at the heart of this apparent conversion to concern over efficiency”.

    Of course

  • Cynic

    Its like the sham fight at Scarva with King Peter on his trusty carthorse facing down the old enemy on his much more catholic looking mare while wee Tom and the peasantry from FRUMP shout incoherently from the wings, sashes akimbo.

    But we all know the outcome. No change and they will both be back next year doing the same old thing but the numbers of FRUMP members will be depleted by the Grim Reaper’s scythe

  • joeCanuck

    Greenflag,
    Your point about the numbers is understood. But there is only so much talent around. Here in Ontario, constituencies are identical for both federal and provincial elections. Roughly 100,000 people for each representative. We have some very good people but the occasional dummy slips in.
    So perhaps N.I. only needs 18 MLAs, same as MPs?

  • barnshee

    Well 20million here 7 million there keep it up-son you will be talking real money whp said irony was dead

  • barnshee

    IF the reduction is managed properly the parties would have the same proportion of seats the same balances would apply-no these snouts are buried so deep it will take a revolution to shake them loose.
    Lets face most of them are unemployable elswhere

  • Greenflag

    joe canuck,

    NI is not Canada . Yes there is only so much talent around and probably a lot of it is going anywhere it can apart from into politics in NI . If it was as integrated into the UK as say Finchley then yes all they would need is 18 MP’s or in UI under the present system about 45 TD’s or so.

  • alex gray

    How do you explain 1,000 trning up at the Ulster Unionist leadership election in the Waterfront Hall ? Doesn’t look like decline to me. I saw the DUP conference on TV and it looked like 200-300 max. I think you should watch this space on the UUP. Now that all their daft experiments are out the window and some liberals have departed with maybe more to follow, their natural vote could start to drift back. It doesn’t have to be exciting but people are very unimpressed by the Developers Unionist Party.

  • alex gray

    How do you explain 1,000 turning up at the Ulster Unionist leadership election in the Waterfront Hall ? Doesn’t look like decline to me. I saw the DUP conference on TV and it looked like 200-300 max. I think you should watch this space on the UUP. Now that all their daft experiments are out the window and some liberals have departed with maybe more to follow, their natural vote could start to drift back. It doesn’t have to be exciting but people are very unimpressed by the Developers Unionist Party.