Public services squeeze begets tension between streetlamp bulbs and next generation of NI artists.

As you will have noted from our #SluggerSoapbox series there’s a slew of folk in Northern Ireland now staggering under the proposed cuts in cash to front line services. This morning’s pitch is a case in point from Paul Smith pointing out that small cuts to a Youth Service, which has always been run on a comparative shoestring are likely to be devastating.

This afternoon we’ll have another making a case for spending on environment. Little of this granular detail will make it to the unravelling talks process in Stormont. Indeed it won’t be lost on many of those involved in the delivery of low cost services that Stormont managed to deliver a 3% rise in public sector salaries in the teeth of these latest cuts.

Right now there’s some pretty strange information free reporting on a heads of agreement as deal in waiting. As the PWC have already said of Simon Hamilton’s draft budget it’s the detail that matters, and heads of agreements do not deal with detail.  It could just be a contingency to keep on paying the fines for not implementing welfare reform.

One thing is clear and that is that local Civil Servants are repeating the Whitehall department habit of pushing down fiscal cuts on the front line leaving most departments’ internal bureaucracy almost completely intact. The result is that services to the public are cut whilst the major chunk of public expenditure is preserved.

This is one of the faultlines in Belfast Barman’s earthy piece on funding for the Arts. Road maintenance is one of the matters that depends on picking up what’s left over at each spending round. It’s one of the first items to struggle, because in the short term it’s easy to set aside and lop off.

Cutting arts is easy too, not least because its a service whose return on investment can usually only be detected in the long term. On the short term balance sheet it it comes under the heading of ‘items that never would be missed’. That’s presumably why NI Screen* is facing a 50% cut in some of its funding lines.

Whatever your thoughts about The Fall (Series 1, yep; Series 2, not so much) it showed that Northern Ireland not only has actors of the stature of Jamie Dornan, but talent to provide a supporting cast. The Game of Thrones inward investment will leave no trace behind itif there’s no reciprocal investment in homegrown talent here

Not that anyone on the hill is thinking in these terms. Indeed, few enough in Westminster are giving it much thought either. As Rick notes it is public services that are taking the brunt of cuts under the current administration.

Resource DEL and implied Resource DEL

He points out…

The ONS records don’t go back far enough to find a time when day-to-day spending was at 12.6 percent of GDP. This amounts to real-terms per capita cuts of a third at a time when an ageing population means the number of people needing help from the state is increasing.

It’s in this context that our already conflicted administration is being asked to decide between new streetlamp bulbs or the next generation of artists. Politicians have always pointed at a big number as proof to their constituents ‘you’ve done well’.  But as front line tangible services are starved, for how long?

*To declare a personal interest, NI Screen part funded the rejigging of Slugger a few years back.


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