A ‘budget’ for Ministers who want to both have cake and eat it?

In the News Letter, NR Greer is distinctly underwhelmed by what the Northern Ireland Executive (or at least the majority shareholders within it) are now calling the Northern Irish budget:

The UUP and SDLP have already set their faces against the budget, which is a cobbled together dog’s breakfast of random and vague proposals, noticeable for its lack of clarity, substance or direction.

You would not pass A-level economics (not even new Labour’s dumbed down version) with a document this poorly put together. It is a piece of traditional half- baked Ulster fudge; prepared to avoid decision making and without care, with the expectation that when it all goes wrong somebody will come along to take the blame and give us massive dollops of other people’s money to keep us going.

So far so good for the minority dissenters, but as he goes on to point out, the fudge doesn’t stop at the framers of the budget:

To their credit both the UUP and SDLP parties have pointed to the hopelessness of the budget, but they fail to offer any alternative other than simplistic “no Tory cuts” and “spend, spend, spend” slogans.

He might also throw in the fact that in the case of the UUs, they cheer led the Messers Osborne and Cameron into power on the very austerity ticket that’s at the root of the cuts.Which you might think would have been a stimulus for a more detailed critique of the budget (or at least the ad hoc process of delay and fudge that led to it’s late arrival) itself:

What is their alternative to reduced budgets? I have yet to hear any of our politicians, fervently opposed to spending cuts as they are, tell us where the ever greater mountains of money that they wish to squander will come from.

Do they expect the fairies to leave it in the Long Gallery overnight?

This week’s example comes courtesy of the health minister, the UUP’s Michael McGimpsey, who has gained a reputation for failing to control costs, and for issuing apocalyptic ultimatums whenever he is asked to do so.

McGimpsey has spent taxpayers’ money bringing in a London-based “health policy economist” to help him make his case.

The consultant is chief economist at a think tank that always thinks spending more public money on the NHS is the cure for all ills. I think we know what he will say.

The minister is currently looking for an additional £800 million and is claiming that without it 4,000 jobs will be lost.

However, when it is suggested that he could maybe take a look at staffing structures and the wage bill (there are some 902 local health service staff, doctors and managers, earning over £100,000 a year), instead of reassuring taxpayers’ that their money is being spent wisely, the minister has been known to become a mite defensive.

Indeed. Although there’s no mention of the Minister for Regional Development’s plan to bring NI Water back onto a public accounts book that’s rapidly shrinking…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty