There is a Better Way? Is there?

This morning, Sinn Féin launched it’s proposals for, essentially, raising revenues rather than making cuts. While there will be the usual knee-jerk dismissal in many quarters, they have at least published their strategy (which can be read here).

Some cuts are being suggested, including a 15% pay cut for Stormont salaries, an end to renumeration of committee chairs plus a pay freeze for higher paid civil servants. Implementing the RPA with the projected cost savings of 400m is also included, although Edwin Poots, while ‘still committed’ has killed off the transition committees which were supposed to help implement the changeover.

There are also suggestions about enterprise and innovation, accessing FP7 funds, taxing mobile phone masts and a plastic bag levy, amongst others.

Rather than simply dumping on the proposals, does anyone have alternatives?

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  • john greene

    There is a lot of flannel about savings £1bn but surely this is a £1bn ‘cut’
    Does Stormont have the power to tax phone masts?

    Asking for alternatives implies that SF have presented a carefully costed and thought through set of proposals – they have not.

  • medillen

    Yes Stormont can tax for phone masts, as long as it is a tax in area that is new and innovative.

    These are credible proposals that have been thought out.

  • Neil

    Rather than simply dumping on the proposals, does anyone have alternatives?

    Asking for alternatives implies that SF have presented a carefully costed and thought through set of proposals – they have not.

    That would be a no then.

  • Brian Walker

    To be generous, a token effort. Does the DFP and the Treasury accept their figures? Are the pigs flying yet? If they want to tax phone masts they’ve got a week to acquire the taxation powers. How does rejecting EU funds count as cuts?

     A germ of an idea here “ It wants the four Northern Ireland banks to loan £400m for a development bond and would give the Housing Executive the power to borrow £250m.”
     Although implying job losses of 30-40,000 a year, cuts of 3.5% pa – £1.2 b to £2b by 2015 may not be catastrophic from a high public spending level which doubled in a decade.
     Cut not by top slicing but according to agreed priorities on the basis, how effective is the service?
     Don’t ring fence health and education. Protecting them fully would impose ” unsustainable” cuts of 21% on other services. “There should be no sacred cows.”
     Reappraise the stalled review of public administration for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
     Make a start on a shared future strategy to reduce sectarian double spend.
     Tackle the 50,000 empty school places.
     Capital budgets should not be slashed in favour of short term gains to save some jobs ( a key temptation for every politician) .
     Start reducing the rates, water and other subsidies that cost £300 million a year.
     Drastic cuts to the voluntary sector (budget, £260 million) in favour of in-house services should be resisted.
     Assessment of cuts options should involve an independent element to prevent the civil service acting as judge and jury in its own interest, like an Bord Snip in the Republic.
     Freezing public sector pay is no magic bullet but worth assessing in lower cost NI.

  • John – this is obviously a kite-flying exercise, although some aspects have been costed elsewhere (like the RPA) or are fairly straightforward (cuts in Stormont salaries).
    Others may require a detailed response from people who have expertise in the area – such as FP7 – bear in mind that the Republic hold the Innovation brief for the EU. The alternative is that everybody sits on their hands and pretends that there is nothing wrong (while cuts have to be made). If you can critique one proposal or suggestion in detail, it would be useful to do so.

  • medillen

    Even within Stormonts limited fiscal powers it can impose new and innovative tax that is within the British Treasury rules. Therefore a phone mast tax or plastic bag tax can be legislated for immediately. The north has been particularly poor at drwaing down EU funds, the south have a target of £600 million euro from the 7th Framework alone for R&D, the north just needs to get its act together and they could easily draw down £100 million. The biggest proposal is the Housing Executive the power to borrow £250 million each year, that is entirely feasible and will ensure a renewed social housing build, save the Executive coffers a billion over four years and rescue the construction sector.

  • slug

    Essentially they position themselves on the high tax end of the spectrum.

  • Anon

    I have no idea if the figures stack up.

    Tax Varying Powers. Support but kite flying.

    Single island bodes: Ditto

    Implement RPA: If this really saves 20 million a year, a councillor should be shot a week until its implemented, but sense unlikely

    Bank bond: Populist and probably just but also highly unlikely

    Cut Assembly Salaries. Yes. Potentially also cut numbers. Smallish savings, but good signal.

    Cut Quangos: Generally support moving responsibility back to government, but small beer.

    Phone Masts: The market is big enough to support a stealth tax and this incentivises minimising masts which peopel hate. No health effects proven afaik but it remains a persistent worry of those near them too. Assuming it doesn’t crush rural coverage then lean toward win here.

    Plastic Bag Levy: Many places are charging now anyway. The government might as well do it to help fill the budget hole. Also avoidable and can reduce waste.

    Public sector pay freeze for high earners: Good start, won’t save nearly enough.

    Milk EU: Go for it. Can’t be relied on.

    Milk UK: Gor for it. Unlikely.

    Housing Executive borrowing on rents: seems sensible?
    reduce

    Consultants: this is fine as long as proper expertise can be brought in house. They are a symptom rather than a cause.

    ESA: don’t understand.

    To sum, a few promising looking things, mostly on the revenue side. the best thing was the recognitionn by MMG that it’ll be a negotiation. I suspect they don’t want to be the bad guy, and the DUP will happily fill the cut cut cut role. But will they?

  • slug

    How many masts are there – it won’t bring in much without hitting rural coverage and the rural economy.

  • medillen

    Let me help you with ESA, it is the removal of all the Education and Library Boards by the creation of one Education Skills Authority. This will save the Education Department £20 million a year, each year. The DUP are currently blocking it.

  • solve the debt crisis with a £400m loan from the banks?

    excellent.

  • slug

    I don’t favour a cut in MLA salaries. The quality and educational attainment of MLAs is very low (on average) as it is. Cut their number not their salary. In fact their salary is lowest in UK by some margin.

  • Anon

    Brian

    Although implying job losses of 30-40,000 a year, cuts of 3.5% pa – £1.2 b to £2b by 2015 may not be catastrophic from a high public spending level which doubled in a decade.

    It’s doable but don’t sugar coat. It didn’t double in real terms. And unless there is private sector work to replace it then the cuts will hurt. A lot.

    Cut not by top slicing but according to agreed priorities on the basis, how effective is the service?

    Do both. Even if you close particular services, there may be a case for top slicing what remains.

    Don’t ring fence health and education. Protecting them fully would impose ” unsustainable” cuts of 21% on other services. “There should be no sacred cows.”

    The problem with health is costs increase over time. Older population, newer drugs, btter treatments. Even a rise in line with inflation is probably a cut. It should be assessed, but with that in mind.

    Should be some scope on education here, though teaching graduates are already having problems getting jobs.

    Make a start on a shared future strategy to reduce sectarian double spend.

    Avoid meddlesome social engineering. If there are exceptionally stupid funding decisions, cut them, pick the fight and let people sort out what they want themselves.

    Tackle the 50,000 empty school places.

    Done above.

    Capital budgets should not be slashed in favour of short term gains to save some jobs ( a key temptation for every politician)

    Yup.

    Start reducing the rates, water and other subsidies that cost £300 million a year.

    If we can raise it via a p

    Drastic cuts to the voluntary sector (budget, £260 million) in favour of in-house services should be resisted.

    Why? I’m all for government taking responsibility.

    Assessment of cuts options should involve an independent element to prevent the civil service acting as judge and jury in its own interest, like an Bord Snip in the Republic.

    Invites strikes. I’m more concerned the figures add up.

    Freezing public sector pay is no magic bullet but worth assessing in lower cost NI.

    Crushes morale. Cap it at 1% with a smaller pot for exceptional performance.

    Other ideas

    Police overtime?
    Civil Service hiring freeze?
    Abolish Invest NI?

  • Anon

    On what grounds, exactly?

  • Oracle

    Yeah a wage cap……..

    1) Absolutely no one in the public sector should earn more than £45,000 a year anyone earning over this at present should have an immediate wage reduction over night not phased inA

    2) All quangos to be scrapped and a super-tax of 75% levied on people who received a wage for serving on one of these in the last 10 years.

    3) All community grants to be halted until further notice but at least until 2020

    4) The Arts and Sports grant to be slashed by 75%

    5) A £1.50 health tax on every Kentucky box or MacDonalds meal £1 on a single unit burger

    6) A 50p health tax on evry fizzy drinks can

    7) All churches to be charged rates at business levels

    8) Style wardens similar to traffic wardens to patrol the streets to impose fines on people dress like spides and slags

    9) A daily £10 begging tax imposed for sellers of big issues or pavement sitters

    10) The seizure of 85% of all assets of people who can’t show legally where their investment came from

    11) The imediate scrapping of payments to alcoholics as a disability

    12) The immediate scrapping of the Motability sham

    13) The scrapping of 30% of government depatments

    14) The scrapping of all councils management posts no shovel no job

    15) All consultancy work stopped and a 50% super tax charged to all firms who earned money from such work

    16) The capping of wages to MLA’s or MP’s at £30,000

    17) The confication of all ransome strips so they can be sold at auction for allotments

    18) No product to be sold in Ireland/UK unless the companys call centre is UK/Ireland based

    19) Surgeons and Consultants on to be paid for what work they do and not for being on weekend standby

    20) The investigation of every farmers accounts to ensure no over payment and the recovery of such

  • Anon

    The government is not your household. Debt is cheap at the moment, potentially good RoI, chance of jobs whent here are none and sustaining growth. If they can issue bonds, it’s an excellent idea.

  • Anon

    What you mean is we have more workign class politicans than elsewhere. I can’t begin on how good a thing this is.

    They remain on a good wage, especially for NI.

  • Oracle: “A daily £10 begging tax imposed for sellers of big issues or pavement sitters”

    Are you Serious?

  • George Dobson

    It seems to me that overall, this is a positive document. I am not a SF voter by a long stretch, but i welcome proposals that can be discussed by all the parties. I hope they take up the offer. I was very struck at how credible the proposals seem, and not the usual reherotic that we too oftern here from SF. Some novel ideas and some that just need implemented. The parties should stop bickering and get around the table

  • Is this where I invoke Poe’s law?:—

    Poe’s Law concerns internet debates, particularly regarding religion or politics. “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.”

  • …. :S oops – thanks for the clear-up 🙂

    I thought it was serious cos there was a few of the points I was agreeing with…..

  • mehawind @ 5:29 PM:

    So was (and am) I. Especially 5 through 8, 10, 17 and 20.

    Oracle’s typo (at #17) make me recall, coincidentally, that the ironmasters in Ispwich were Ransomes and Rapier. In my twisted mind, that somehow makes the synapses link to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath:

    when I hear a business man talkin’ about service, I wonder who’s gettin’ screwed. Fella in business got to lie an’ cheat, but he calls it somepin else.

  • Greenflag

    There are 50,000 empty school places ?

    Why ?

    Has the NI population decided to eh phase itself out rather than confront it’s problems . I suppose there are worse alternatives ;(?

  • Greenflag

    I like 5 and 7 – No 6 make that 90 p instead of 50 .

    I notice you omitted a 10 pound extra NI tax on the little white cancer sticks ?

    So I’ll take that you belong to the tribe of those who willingly set fire to about 200,000 pounds or euros over the course of a lifetime ;(?

  • Reader

    Anon: What you mean is we have more workign class politicans than elsewhere. I can’t begin on how good a thing this is.
    You may feel it is good in principle, but it doesn’t seem to be good in practice.
    By the way, you seem to be suggesting that low quality and low educational attainment means working class. I don’t think I would dare to agree with you! There are useless, loutish numpties from all classes, and a lot of them seem to end up in the Assembly.

  • This “statistic” has been around for some time.

    I believe it first emerged with the report by Sir George Bain, which came out in December 2006. That proposed closing some 450 smaller schools, and establishing a minimum of 140 pupils in urban areas/105 rural.

    The then Secretary of State, Peter Hain, was reported to have given “the immediate go-ahead” for the Bain proposals to be implemented.

    I’ve got here figures for excess-capacity in North Down (that’s from the Northern Ireland Assembly report, 28 May 2010) but haven’t been able to source the numbers for other areas.

    Those North Down figures are interesting on their own: they specify around 2,500 spare places, of which some 875 are in just two schools: Clandeboye and Kilcooley Primaries.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: Those North Down figures are interesting on their own: they specify around 2,500 spare places, of which some 875 are in just two schools: Clandeboye and Kilcooley Primaries.
    Not surprising. Half of the parents in the Kilcooley catchment area send their children to St Malachy’s, and who can blame them? I suppose Clandeboye is much the same.

  • jim

    suppose if alex still uses the D L A car for to run up n down to stormont weel save a few quid.its a f n joke

  • William Markfelt

    The biggest proposal is the Housing Executive the power to borrow £250 million each year, that is entirely feasible

    Sure. We could all borrow a billion. Now, how do we pay it back?

  • Reader @ 10:44 PM:

    Precisely. For once (it had to happen) we concur.

    So why are empty places (and so many of them) being kept open elsewhere?

    Look: I served on London local authorities and their education committees a dozen years. I’ve taken stick from parents, pressure groups and teaching unions for merging undersubscribed schools.I Got Stripes, as much as Johnny Cash . Worse: I was deselected when the NUT (my own union) turned up in force to defenestrate me.

    That’s the personal pain, merely to win a whit of sympathy. But what I cannot comprehend is how Northern Ireland, presumably under direct rule and with little “democratic” input, got into such a mess. And then how, despite the definitive Bain report, the Assembly allowed it to persist.

    Quite frankly, this one beggars belief, and is probably (apart from the indefensible subsidies on water charges and rates) one of the biggest items in the shopping list.

    Just do it.

  • cynic47

    Who do you think will ultimately pay for a phone mast tax?

  • FYI – fencing of neighborhood state government revenue grants will end starting in April 2011.