The Assembly – struggling to face cuts reality

In the interests of Slugger’s ” better politics campaign”, I sat through the on line coverage of the special Assembly debate on the cuts. (Note the lack of a full report on the MSM). MLAs were united on three things: that the British government had broken their promises, that MLAs themselves had to unite to do something about the cuts ; and three – and this one wasn’t deliberate – that no one had much of an idea what that  “something” might be .

Along with his unity call, Gerry Adams invoked his attendance at funerals.

The Tory Government have also reneged on the St Andrews commitment to £18 billion for infrastructure. That is entirely and absolutely unacceptable, and we need to face up to that.

Among the provisions most likely to be affected are mental health services, which are under pressure already. Last week, in the constituency of West Belfast, four young people are suspected of having taken their own lives. I was at one of the funerals, and I called to each of the wake houses.

Costed proposals by Sinn Féin would realise almost £1·9 billion in combined savings and new revenue

People who are very well paid need to have their earnings capped. We believe that MLAs should take the lead and accept a 15% reduction in salary. That should also apply to the top layer of civil servants

We propose that the four major banks in the North should contribute to a development bond of £400 million over the next four years. The credit union movement could also contribute to a social fund. The Housing Executive and our Executive have the power. The Housing Executive could be authorised to borrow money to fund social housing needs.

Who does he suppose would buy the bonds which is a form of debt?


David McNarry of the UUP was equally united – but in his own special way, at Gerry Adams’s expense. For those who don’t know, this form of unity is an Assembly characteristic.

The Sinn Féin president reassumed his personal prejudice and exposed his shallow inadequacies when he said that, by indicating how people here should live, the Chancellor had shown the awful ignorance of a Tory Minister. Let me remind him how glad people here, and those in Brighton, Manchester, Canary Wharf and across the United Kingdom, are to be allowed to live.

This is all about Executive accountability — no sulks, no solo runs, no promises that we cannot deliver. It is all about protecting jobs and saying to people that things are going to be very tough

 First Minister Peter Robinson was glacially furious as he laid out the extent of Westminster’s ” broken promises”  first made by Gordon Brown. He sounds as if he’s spoiling for a fight with David Cameron

In his statement, he  ( Brown)  specifically indicated that it was a guaranteed settlement, which included £18 billion for capital expenditure….It seems to have been forgotten by everybody up to now that, at the moment at which £18 billion was guaranteed for capital expenditure, policing and justice was not devolved and there was no prospect of it being devolved.

Therefore, the £18 billion capital was to be made available for the existing Departments, not including policing and justice. It was to be made available from Government resources; it was not to include the reinvestment and reform initiative (RRI) loan capability or money that we would get by way of asset disposal or any other source. We were to get £18 billion over 12 years for our capital expenditure. Indeed, the trajectory of the money that came to us in the years that followed was in line with that commitment, without the add-ins that the Government of today are now attempting to include.

..Not only do we have a clear breach of the £18 billion, but they have disappeared the capital money for policing and justice. The settlement on policing and justice gave specific guarantees about certain matters; the police college was one and the prison another. Our allocation was set not only for the £18 billion, but that the capital budget for policing and justice would take account of us at least being able to deliver those specific projects. All of that has gone.

There is also a breach regarding our access to the reserve. Initially, our access had been unqualified; it was simply if there was a large requirement for additional funding that was unforeseen

Furthermore, there has been a breach in relation to end-year flexibility (EYF). The Government breached that very easily: they have ended EYF… In the general terms of EYF, we had over £300 million sitting in our EYF stock. The Government are ending EYF; that money is lost to Northern Ireland. That is a huge chunk of money that, by moving it from revenue to capital, could have helped us to deal with some of the reductions that are taking place in that area.

The First Minister persists with detailed and direct charges which Westminster denies. This is not about complex accounting. It must be cleared up. But does Peter really believe that the coalition was going to pay NI the equivalent of over two year’s extra budgets at a time when cuts averaging 25% were being imposed everywhere else? And does it really help to treat the post- St Andrew’s finance package like a legally binding document a new government under new circumstances cannot touch?

In the debate, one obviously sceptical speaker was his own Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, winding up in more senses than one.

Nobody has specified what they mean by resistance — [Interruption.] Sorry. [Laughter.] That is the first person to get knocked on the head. There will be a few more before the debate is over. Just stay clear, because it could get worse…

The First Minister outlined some of those this morning: the commitment to the £18 billion and the money that was committed to policing and justice. Of course we should talk to the Government about those issues because promises were made and should be honoured. Nevertheless, the core of our Budget has been determined by a formula that we did not negotiate and for which the Secretary of State had no responsibility. Once other Departments had their spending set, that formula fed a certain sum of money to Northern Ireland.

If anyone really thinks that the whole of the United Kingdom’s spending is going to be looked at again by the Chancellor, who said that he made his announcement last week to calm the money markets and to make sure that we do not get into the same situation as Greece and Ireland, he or she is living in cloud cuckoo land. The Chancellor will not do that; he will not even hint at doing it, because that would send the money markets, which he has been trying to calm, into a flurry. For that reason, we have to live with reality.

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie was prepared to live with reality, starting with an admission that .the revenue cut is comparatively small

 On current expenditure, we will face a cut in real terms of 7% by the final year of the CSR. Departments could well be tasked with finding savings of less than 2% per annum overall, and, whilst that will be very difficult, that is the political and financial reality. There could well be voluntary redundancies, whereby people leave and retire. Therefore, we have to look at possible ways to protect those in public sector jobs.

On the capital expenditure side, regardless of what smoke and mirrors the Secretary of State uses to sustain an unsustainable argument

First, the Executive may have to find sufficient savings in current expenditure to permit a significant transfer from day-to-day spending into capital in order to pump-prime our infrastructure and our capital side, and, secondly, we have to genuinely prioritise capital budgets

She was the first to discuss the welfare cuts which in practice are not devolved to Stormont.

That brings us to annually managed expenditure, where the damage is really being done. The Northern Ireland share is not far off £500 million. However, what makes this situation iniquitous is that the money does not come out of the Northern Ireland block, where we could all protest about budget cuts. It comes directly out of the pockets and purses of benefit recipients. David Cameron claims that that is fair and that the Government have done the right thing in the right way. I do not think that they have done the right thing in any case, but they most certainly have not done it in the right way. There is unfairness in child benefit. What about snatching the mobility allowance that is payable to people in residential care? Do the Government want people to walk to hospital appointments? Those large-scale welfare cutbacks have little to do with the laudable desire to help people move out of benefit dependency and into the dignity and self-sufficiency of gainful employment.

Chris Lyttle for the Alliance party looked forward to longer term ” shared future” savings

Like it or not, political posturing has wasted money and opportunities to improve the efficiency of public services in this region. We needed RPA, we need ESA, and we need reform of arm’s-length bodies. Without that, we will continue to fail the public, who expect the Assembly to make decisions that will help our society by delivering improved opportunities for education, jobs, health and support for the most vulnerable people

The Alliance Party would prioritise actions that will find savings through building a shared future. In the context of real financial pressure, the luxury of wasting money on maintaining a divided society cannot be tolerated, and, although it will take time to realise those savings, it is critical that we make a start now. The Alliance Party estimates that addressing the cost of division can lead to savings of around £1 billion a year. Specifically, there are considerable economic and social benefits to be achieved through the sharing of education

The social partnership that appeared to be so successful in creating the Celtic Tiger was recommended by Damian O’Loan of the SDLP, with a possible public sector pay freeze in mind.

We need partnership in here and the bigger social partnership of the business sector, the trade union sector and the community and voluntary sector all working together.

I must refer to our public sector workers, because the debate about what is about to happen and whether we need freezes or pay cuts at certain salary levels could easily turn into an assault on our public sector and could demoralise the very sector that we need to deliver the services that we want. We need to bring public sector workers on board

Dawn Purvis, now Independent was  all for continuing Northern Ireland exceptionalism, ( even though NI is not straightforwardly the poorest UK region)

Although some in London have grown weary of hearing it, Northern Ireland is a special case. It has a small economy that is struggling for growth, and the cuts are not fair. Living standards here are about 80% of the UK average; employment is below the UK average; and a higher proportion of those of working age here have no academic qualifications. Furthermore, the employment that we do have tends to be in sectors that have moderate or lower wages. Our population relies more on welfare benefits; our housing stock is in worse shape than that in the rest of the UK; and we experience higher levels of fuel poverty.We are at a very different starting point for the introduction of these cuts.

The DUP’s Simon Hamilton, eager perhaps for the DUP’s own growth potential, had a word for that neglected body of people in Northern Ireland, the squeezed middle.

The people most worried about the future in Northern Ireland are not the elderly or the middle-aged, who have may have experienced recession before and be worried about their jobs or their families; it is the generation of people aged 25 to 34. Thirty-two per cent of that grouping fear for the future and are having difficulty paying their finances.

That generation that should have been full of hope and least impacted by the Troubles. They should have had the most potential to grasp hold of peace and prosperity, but instead they fear for the future in Northern Ireland. It is easy to understand why. Many of them are mortgaged to the hilt, some are in negative equity and some of them cannot find a mortgage at all. They tend to have young families, so there may only be one income coming into the house. They are also, by and large, very well educated, but there is a dearth of graduate jobs. Many of them are shackled with student debt.

To be fair, politicians everywhere in the UK are only now turning to how the spending review is to be implemented in detail. While it is the privilege of opposition to continue challenging them in principle, it is the business of government to implement the cuts with maximum ingenuity and minimum pain. Just to remind them, the Assembly parties have to face up to greater challenge of being in government now.










, , , , ,

  • Alias

    “The social partnership that appeared to be so successful in creating the Celtic Tiger was recommended by Damian O’Loan of the SDLP, with a possible public sector pay freeze in mind.”

    Actually, you’re lucky you don’t have the ‘social partnership’ scam that we have in Ireland. 70% of of the budget for the health care sector in Ireland goes in labour costs. Yet not a single cent was cut from this cost. Instead all of the cuts were targetted in the 30% of the budget that goes on medication and hospitals, etc. That means that public sector employees are paid the same money to deliver less services to those who pay the taxes that pay their wages.

  • Seymour Major

    It is becoming an utter bore listening to politicians posturing about cuts and moaning about the so-called wrongness of it all.

    Somebody wake me up when they have stopped talking and started acting

  • cynic47

    They are acting, as in front of the footlights!

  • Lionel Hutz

    They are all just walking cliches. To be fair, I suppose they could not have been expected to debate any proposals so soon after the SR. Well after all, its not like they knew it was coming.

    Sinn Fein sound as ridiculous as ever (are we the government, or are we a picket line protest party) and after watching the stormont programme, I beg the SDLP to please please please get rid of Ritichie. She seems honest enough, and reasonable enough but when you are effectively an opposition, you need a communicator

  • sdelaneys

    I don’t understand this “…we have in Ireland.” or “70% of of the budget for the health care sector in Ireland goes in labour costs. ” O’Loan was talking about Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Derry, all 6 counties happen to be in ‘Ireland’.

    I dislike being marked out of ‘Ireland’ by slovenly use of language.
    On the main issue, our ‘reps’ in Stormont are facing the day they were dreading, the day they start becoming accountable as opposed to acting as if every million spent locally was created by their , rare, sweat. You in real ‘Ireland’ will be delighted to know that S.F councillors in Newry and Mourne are demanding that F.Fail bankroll road repairs in sth Armagh. That gives you an idea of what is happening, and passing for intelligent politics, here in our ‘Ireland’ otherwise known as ‘la la land’.

  • Alias

    “I dislike being marked out of ‘Ireland’ by slovenly use of language.”

    Then you shouldn’t have signed up to the GFA. Ireland refers to the state of Ireland, not to Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK state). As Article 4 of the Irish constitution puts it “The name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland.” As you are in Northern Ireland, you are not part of the Irish state. Northern Ireland is, however, part of the ‘island of Ireland’ but the part of the island of Ireland that it belongs to is a part of the United Kingdom since the UK is also part of the island of Ireland. Does that clear up your lamentable confusion?

  • Cynic

    Boys boys…….. there’s an election coming up and they have to be seen to be FORCED to do the cuts by the BOGEYMAN

  • Cynic

    From todays BBC

    “Two government departments in Northern Ireland have joined forces to try to secure funding to encourage the use of electric cars.

    To encourage motorists to buy new electric vehicles, an infrastructure of charging points will need to be in place across Northern Ireland.

    The departments of the environment and regional development have teamed up to bid for funds through a special initiative called “plugged in places” which provides funding for electric vehicle projects across the UK.

    They have also signed an agreement with Nissan and Renault, who both hope to have a new range of the vehicles on the roads by 2012.

    Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy said the agreement would “strengthen our bid and show that the North is an innovative and dynamic region that major companies want to work with”.

    Environment Minister Edwin Poots added: “Electric vehicles are an exciting part of our transport future and I think this agreement will help to ensure that we start to enjoy the benefits that these vehicles bring sooner rather than later.”

    Nice to see that we are maintaining that forensic focus on the big picture and not chasing funding for electric cars that aren’t even on sale yet, that will be hugely expensive and turn out to be a technological dead end supplanted by hydrogen fuel cells. Keep up the good work boys

  • Dr Concitor

    Cynic, I personally welcome this cooperation between DoE and DRD. In fact I think they should quickly move to re-merging the two(the way it used to be) This would mean that one PS and layers of senior management could go. Paul Priestley would not need to be replaced and the DRD senior people, who have proved them selves to be incompetent, could be made redundant. Murphy and Poots could job share as neither is capable of doing the job on their own. Given the cost of employing NICS senior management is £150k+ this would result in considerable savings.

  • “MLAs were united on three things: that the British government had broken their promises, that MLAs themselves had to unite to do something about the cuts ; and three – and this one wasn’t deliberate – that no one had much of an idea what that “something” might be .”

    The problem appears to be that no one elected to the Assembly, and charged with spending publicly gifted cash, knows how to raise cash for public spends, for the tale told above in “The Assembly – struggling to face cuts reality” tells us all that they intellectually bankrupt and pathetically addicted to their spoon feeding from an occupying force and effectively a foreign power …….. for there is no home force and power in control of the situation.

    There is no leadership ….. just a gaggle of servants crying out for a cause and/or a program to server/administer.

    So that boils the argument down to only the one thing that matters and is needed ….. a program to server [” and three – and this one wasn’t deliberate – that no one had much of an idea what that “something” might be .”]

    Taking it a stage further, and assuming that there is such a Servering Program available with IT and all controls virtualised and provisioned/mentored and monitored from the new fangled and HyperRadioProActive Cyber Space Domain, whom would Intelligence Services with CyberIntelAIgent capabilities and facilities initially consult in the Executive, or would it be as a waste of their time to discuss such as would be a Novel Civil CyberSpace Project, and as casting pearls before swine.

    All it requires to set the ball rolling nowadays, is a virtual address or internet page [such as you see here] which is not frightened to reply or affeared of what may be discovered and exposed in virtual conversation, for one is always best protected in the cyber domain by assuming that nothing is and can never ever be secret and everything is known to Intelligence and CyberIntelAIgent Services, and failure to engage will always leave one in the present position which the Assembly finds itself …….. Lost and Struggling to Survive at the Rear and dependent upon Foreign Aid and Charity …… which is no way to run a country.

    Does the Executive have its own Spooky Network and Special Intelligence Service, or are they at the mercy of, and dancing to the tune of others?

    In irregular and unconventional times and situations, are irregular and unconventional programs and protocols necessary, for the status quo power systems and establishment elites are not interested in change which will diminish or share their controls.

  • Damian O’Loan

    It was recommended by Declan O’Loan.

  • Comrade Stalin

    sdelaneys, please don’t feed the troll.

  • wild turkey

    “They are all just walking cliches.”

    LH, i think you are being a bit generous.

    i am waiting for some of them to threaten to stop breathing until the cuts are withdrawn and the begging bowl is full.

    a suggestion, why not move the entire stormont circus to chile? there is a recently vacated deep hole in the ground this could be the perfect venue for these strategic thinkers to indulge in their unique exercise of political handjobbery.

    just a thought, like.

  • Driftwood

    There appears to be a disconnection between ‘The Assembly’ and ‘reality’ which is not apparent to the media.

    The meaningless farrago that constitutes the NI Assembly has about as much connection with the real world as the Glen Rose creation museum in Texas: see here for visit

    Having no meaningful role means the ‘Assembly’ has to strive very hard to appear relevant to the general populace both here and tthe rest of the UK and Ireland. It doesn’t do this very well, but the placebo effect can be pwerful enough to convince those who wish to believe. Apathy can wash over the rest.

  • Driftwood
  • Cynic

    I totally agree.

    PS Not often you hear that on Slugger!

  • Cynic

    Shame on you. You obviously need some skoolin at the Landover Baptist Church Institute of Creation Science. You can find more out here. Praise the Lord!

  • Cynic

    From the UUP Website

    ” “The Department of Health employs over 70,000 who, unless the Executive does not agree a budget, will not get paid;”

    Memo to Leader: double negatives are best avoided or you make stupid mistakes like this.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    In contrast to the lack of activity at Stormont and their continued harping about Owen Paterson and the coalition Government this piece in the Boston Globe paints a very different picture.

    This shows a man on top of his brief and working for Northern Ireland where it matters and where a new source of jobs is possible. If we had a few more MLA’s like him in Stormont we might not be in the mess we are in; what we seem to have in comparison are a set of Oliver Twist apprentices.

    It is time the MLA’s got down to work, took some decisions and stopped scaremongering and looking for people to blame. Shame on them.

  • Seymour Major


    I agree with you. Owen is batting for Northern Ireland. The politicians here can not yet see it or grasp it. The need to cut taxes nationally should be taken as an opportunity to tackle Northern Ireland’s unbalanced economy.

    The 10% Corporation tax should just be a starting point for a low tax economy. An enterprise economy is not just about the corporate sector. IMHO, the politicians in Northern Ireland should not just be encouraging the spending cuts which they have to make. They should be asking themselves if they need them to go deeper so that they can cut the business rate.

    Can we please have some politicians who are prepared to stop blaming the Coalition Government and try and do something for the Northern Ireland economy.

  • Frustrated Democrat


    There is an election next year, will we have 108 candidates on offer who are even half way competent and have real world experience?

    Likely not, as those who could do the job see what is on offer in terms of sectarian, zero sum politics and want nothing to with it.

    What can we all do, short of getting a new electorate, to get them interested and then elected?

  • Joseph Addison

    Some sense at last, the denigration of HM’s SOSfor NI shows the puerile level of intellectual rigour of those who criticise him so ignorantly. This level of behaviour appears to be running wild in the pro Unionist Unity faction of the UUP. One of whom has covered himself with glory this week by brawling outside the DUP executive meeting and then being abusive in Emails to the parent of an autistic child. This is the level of debate that a dieing on their feet team of comprising 65% all male Assembly members all approaching their seventies. These so called politicians are possibly the most self serving bunch of so called leglislators anywhere in the EEC or North America.
    They are totally devoid of intelligent leadership and most certainly have no clue how to deal with Noerthern Ireland’s seriously totally unbalanced economy. The best thing for Northern Ireland would be for this group not to stand for re-election.

  • bob wilson

    The Spending Review means NI has capital expenditure of £3.4 Billion to spend.
    Sadly we are dependent on the muppets on the hill to make the best use of it and to get best value.
    Owen has taken the fight to the local politicos on the Spending Review and he will need to do so on the Corporation Tax issue – however he needs to do it as a representive of a Party looking for votes and membership in NI – not connected to the Fermanagh Unionist Party

  • Bob wilson

    Always interesting to see how the antics of our local politicos are seen by informed, outside observers – this from the Economist

    “THE decade after their establishment in 1998-99 was kind to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The budgets doled out from London fattened, and the local politicians won easy approval. The coalition government’s spending cuts have provoked squeals of Celtic protest; they may also affect the outcomes of the elections to the three devolved assemblies that are due next May, and bolster the pressure for changes to the devolution settlements.

    Compared to the overall cuts, the spending review wasn’t especially cruel to the devolved regions. Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the Scots will lose 6.8% of their grant, the Northern Irish 6.9% and the Welsh 7.5%. The differences between those figures result from the vagaries of the so-called Barnett formula, based on population, which the Treasury uses to calculate changes to devolved budgets, and from the different responsibilities each devolved administration discharges. But this relative good fortune has not deterred complaints.

    Begin with Northern Ireland, where almost 30% of jobs are in the public sector. Lavish subsidy sustained it during the decades of terrorist conflict. Peace arrived some time ago, but the economic dependence continued. Some worried that austerity might create divisions in the governing coalition of unionists and republicans. It seems to have done the opposite: the instinctive reaction of both has been to unite against what they view as a common financial foe—the Treasury.

    On October 25th unionist and nationalist politicians in the Belfast assembly unanimously expressed “serious concerns” about the impact of the spending squeeze. Peter Robinson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, has complained of “smoke and mirrors” in the way the government presented its figures. Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, insisted the region was getting “a settlement which frankly is a lot, lot better” than most other government departments.

  • Greenflag

    Tough talk by Mr Robinson and while he is technically correct and yes the Tories have eh muddied the waters or reneged on agreements , those of us who are Irish will not be surprised .

    But while the MLA’s can shout at Mr Cameron or Westminster they need to pause for a moment and consider that in essence Mr Cameron is in the same virtually powerless position as the MLA’s . They may be in thrall to Westminster but Westminster is in thrall to the City of London and the international bond market and global financiers who can loose the dogs of currency and interest speculation on the UK if either Messrs Cameron & Osborne don’t play the game the way the City wants it to be played ‘

    The bigger question for the UK is whether or no the Treasury is leading the Government astray in it’s advice and recommendations.

    There are some in the Republic who say the Irish Central Bank knew a lot more about what was going on in the banking world but somehow either did not communicate their knowledge to government or the latter did’nt want to listen !