Saturday, 11 September 2010

Political Self-harm

Earlier in the week I was having some fun at the expense of Sinn Fein and NIPSA on the issue of cuts.  However, their respective positions are not so much funny rather they are harmful in a number of respects.

Sinn Fein's primary argument is that we don't know the cuts that Northern Ireland will be subject to and until we are we should fight the case for special status.  This is a half-truth. We do not know the exact figures. However, we do know they will come, they will be significant and a fair idea of what range they are within

Their proposed approach of trying to protect the entire Northern Ireland block grant as a special case is a weak one.  The more protection you seek the more money you are seeking at the worst possible time.  Hence if you attempt the special case argument it is better to be limited and focused but with a Treasury seeking not to set a precedent this is a hard sell. 

Also the Con Dem Coalition has a partial answer to that.  Northern Ireland is getting special treatment. A paper on special measures to help boost the Northern Ireland economy is to be produced. Granted it's a thin answer and when it is produced will probably be even thinner but it still provides them with an answer now.  Perhaps the political focus should shift to this to try and make it something genuinely meaningful?

From a UK wide perspective Northern Ireland's budget is not far off loose change.  The net cost of NI would barely cover 25% of our loan payments let alone reduce the deficit and the government spends more on IT that it does on us.   Add a Prime Minister with a generous approach to the issue of Northern Ireland those making the case had a receptive audience e.g. the extra £1billion given when devolution returned.  A £150 billion deficit means the concept of loose change no longer exists and the primary concern of a new Prime Minister is having to deal with it.  UK politics has moved on. 

There is also the practical. The more thorough that you are in analysing your budgets the more strategic you can be about cuts. The longer you wait the more likely bad decisions will result.  The longer we delay discussions the longer we delay talking about asset sales and when the returns from those could be received.  Also it is a mistake to present the two as necessarily choices you can be preparing for the cuts while fighting for exemption.

As regards NIPSA it seems to prefer irrelevancy.  Nearly every argument it produces has nothing to do with the Stormont Assembly.  Its revenue proposals are all within the purview of the national parliament.  Furthermore,  it is NIPSA's membership that could provide many of the answers to effective savings.  Those within it are well placed to identify the waste - one relative said he knew enough off the top of his head to save the equivalent of two salaries with no harm to service in the section within which he works.  The more that is found and the sooner it is found the better with more jobs and front line services the result. 

Also NIPSA should have the sense to realise the power of middle and senior civil service management in budgeting proposals that go to ministers.  It is easier for them to try to protect themselves from the cuts and pass them down the line.  NIPSA, the voice of the lower grades, should be working with its members to prevent such a scenario from developing.  They could provide ministers with alternatives that achieve the cuts but in less harmful form. 

There are also very tough conversation to be had with civil servants namely pay freezes.  The nature of civil service pay agreements means much of this will be driven from the national government unless NIPSA is prepared to step outside national pay agreements.  As a policy tool it has its advantages.  It reduces the budgetary pressures.  It reduces jobs cuts and the associated costs of job cuts. If their mantra of maintaining jobs is what they genuinely believe then this is the tool that will enable it the most.


Andrew said...

The more I hear from NIPSA the more I am convinced they're mentalists.

Apparently we can't do without one less administrator in the Public Sector.

The uncollected tax argument is equally bizarre for reasons stated here and elsewhere. If there is £123bn in uncollected taxes then to collect that £123bn is merely a transfer of wealth from one place to another. No new money is created and to be sure, if growth is desirable the worst place for that money to be is in the Public Sector.

The £100,000 pay cap! 'Who needs more than £100,000 a year?' Crazy!

NIPSA's stated goal is to save public sector jobs, if this is the bottom line then no recess of economic-jiggerypokery will be left untouched.

That's my NIPSA ranting over for now.

Ulster Tory said...

'The more thorough that you are in analysing your budgets the more strategic you can be about cuts. The longer you wait the more likely bad decisions will result.'
Nail hit on head!
Sadly it looks if we will be lucky to get an agreed budget by next May