Gaming in the Assembly crisis reaches new heights ( or depths) with the DUP delivering an undisclosed ultimatum to the secretary of state and the Ulster Unionists implementing their own ultimatum by refusing to take part in talks on the basis of the Stormont House Agreement, even though Mike Nesbitt’s way out of one part of the impasse is through the same Stormont House Agreement. Meanwhile Sinn Fein postures above the fray as yet another old warrior enters the frame.
Away from the parallel universe of NI politics, economist John Simpson only partly invokes the SHA financial proposals in his Bel Tel column to plot a way out of the financial deadlock. This means, if you need a reminder, the phased introduction of modest charges for those public services that everybody else in the UK pays for. But why is the highly estimable John Simpson alone in the crisis to revive the practical proposals to end deadlock amid the orgy of political manoeuvring? Why are the parties being allowed to slide to the precipice unchecked by intelligent comment? The wider public are so inured to gaming that they share with most politicians a very low appreciation of the real public interest. The absence of accountability is as great today as ever it was in the last century.
John Simpson extracts
In other words, Northern Ireland should implement the rules on welfare payments as are now in place for Great Britain and accept those financial transfers on the former parity framework.
The residual cost of welfare reform, with local discretion to tackle systemic effects on some disadvantaged groups, might need about £50m to £70m from the local budget
Corrective measures of tax increases or reduced expenditure would need to start with discrete steps, possibly looking for an adjustment of £100m in 2016-17 then followed by incremental increases.
Finance Minister Arlene Foster must ask the Executive to agree some unpalatable decisions.
These could include:
An annual phased “inflation plus 3%” increase in the regional domestic rate to begin to narrow the existing underfunding from households for rates.
A commitment to withdraw the remaining industrial de-rating arrangements partially to offset the cost of corporation tax relief to businesses.
Prescription charges at a fixed rate.
As a preliminary to an agreed water charging system, a fixed charge per household (levied as part of the domestic rates bill) of £100 each year.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London