Fact-checking Sinn Féin’s economic proposals for Northern Ireland

While John wants alternatives, let’s have a closer look at what Sinn Féin’s ‘blue-sky thinking’ has actually resulted in.  And how the figures, where given, stack up against the ‘can save £1.9bn’ headline.

Here is the list of SF’s economic proposals

Introduce tax varying and borrowing powers to enable the Executive to generate income and stimulate development.

That’s top of the list.  It’s not costed and there’s no indication of what ‘varying’ they propose to do.

Implement the Review of Public Administration (RPA) delivering savings of £400 million.

The figure comes from PriceWaterhouseCooper’s Economic Appraisal last year which, as noted at the time, would incur one-off costs of £126.6million, has “a projected saving of £438million over a 25-year period.”

Establish the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) saving £80 million over the next four years.

I’m not entirely clear where that figure of “£80million over the next four years” comes from.

And both of those last two proposals have foundered on the semi-detached polit-bureau rocks.

Introduce a phone mast tax to generate £160 million over the next four years.

Taxing phone companies to the tune of £24,000 per year per mast.  And expecting it not to have a knock-on effect on consumers…

Apparently, “This would provide an incentive to phone companies to share masts, which would potentially benefit environmental and public health.”  Potentially, indeed, as there’s no evidence of a risk to public health from phone masts.  And the new tax rate of £24,000 per year, per mast, appears to been plucked out of thin air.

Enable the Housing Executive to borrow £250 million per year from, amongst others, the European Investment Bank to fund social housing needs.

Interestingly, SF elaborate on this further into the document.

The Housing Executive should be given the ability to borrow on the strength of rents from housing stock.  This would take a large proportion of the DSD social housing budget, which is just over £460 million, out of the block grant and allow it to be self-financing. [added emphasis]

Yup.  Just like NI Water was intended to be self-financing.  But that process has just been reversed by the Regional Development Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy…

Back to the list of proposals

Draw down an additional 100 million euro from the EU 7th Framework programme over the next two years to fund Research and Development and promote innovation.

Maximise access to other EU funds, such as the Joint European Support for Micro and Medium Enterprises (JEREMIE) and Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas (JESSICA) and the PROGRESS Microfinance fund of 500Million euro.

And how has the NI Executive’s current action plan for European engagement been going?

I’m assuming they would also propose keeping the disallowances to a minimum…

Seek agreement from the four main banks to establish a Sustainable Economic Development Bond of £400 million over the next four years, (£25 million per bank per year) as their contribution to the recovery from the economic crisis.

Tax the banks!  Because we can!

Seek agreement with the Credit Union Movement to create a £100 million Social Fund targeted at growing indigenous businesses with social outcomes based on objective need.

Ditto.

Reduce Ministerial and MLAs salaries and expenses by 15%, saving £7.5 million over the next four years.

Abolish additional remuneration for Chairs/Vice-Chairs of Assembly committees.

Just propose putting them all on an “average industrial wage” and be done with it…

Service provision should be provided on an all-island basis, reducing administrative duplication and costs.

Not costed.  Has it ever been properly costed by those proposing it?

The Executive to establish an investment fund to revive and grow the economy, with a major focus on investing in SMES, spocial enterprises, new technologies, the tourism industry and manufacturing designed for export.

Funded by those new tax varying and borrowing powers?

Implement “the Green New Deal” proposals, with the potential to create thousands of green collar jobs.

Environmental levy on plastic bags, to promote the “reduce, reuse, recycle” policy. (101 million euro has been raised in the 26 counties in the last five years.)

There’s no estimate given for Northern Ireland over the next five years.

Abolish unnecessary quangos and government arms-length bodies and reduce remuneration rates.

Define “unnecessary”?  The DUP already have a list of the ones they want to see abolished.

End the use of external consultants for work which can be carried out by the Civil Service.

And where it can’t?

To safeguard public sector jobs and grow the economy, co-operation and a joint approach with the unions is essential.

And where the unions disagree? [added link]

A pay freeze for public sector workers in the higher rate income tax bracket.

Review of excessively high earnings in the public sector.

Define “excessively”? Later in the document the review is restricted to the “senior civil service”.

And, not included in the initial list, there’s this

Many public assets are not being properly utilised for the benefit of the community and options have to be considered to maximise such benefit, which may include careful and socially responsible asset realisation.

However, we are opposed to a carte blache sell-off of public assets.  Given the current depressed market in capital assets and roll out of NAMA, capital assets will continue to be undervalued in the short to medium term.

We would consider an approach to borrow against the current value of assets to fund development.  This would generate income and retain the assets in public ownership until such times as the value of the asset is maiximised.

And then?

Any sale of public assets must be conditional on the application of strict criteria to ensure that benefits are maximised in the interests of the public.

Which is fine… Except that, by that stage, it will be in the interests of the public to pay off the debt accrued through the borrowing against those assets.

As for the “£1.9bn”?  Who knows?