Monday, 4 October 2010

Scary Biscuits

At the time of the election it was claimed too much was made of David Cameron's Newsnight interview (7 minutes 35 seconds in) comments about cuts in Northern Ireland and the North-East of England.  However, the news that the Tory Chancellor George Osborne intends to tear up the capital investment programme agreed as part of the St Andrews Agreement is sufficiently grim that it now makes the attacks look positively tame. 

The cuts programme has been a consistent theme of this blog, almost to the point of obsession.  However, this sort of cut takes it from the realm of painful to debilitating. First and foremost cutting capital is the easy option but it is not strategic - a pound on capital provides a greater long-term return than a pound on revenue spending.  Plus a deferred capital cost has a nasty habit of becoming even more expense the longer it is delayed.  Second, there is a legacy of under-investment in our infrastructure.  Capital budgets were the usual victim when extra security resources were needed.  Third, the construction sector is being kept alive by what public capital projects are out there and proposed.

The original proposals for capital cuts could have been just about managed.  If an asset sales programme were agreed then a significant part of the hole could have been filled (provided the mandatory coalition government would have signed up to such a programme.)  Deeper capital cuts simply can't be.

Owen Patterson didn't do a very good job of trying to blame Labour and trying to slide away from those parts of the St Andrews Agreement. This also sets a precedent that he will have difficulty living with as Secretary of State.  These are also the party that Ulster Unionists were queuing up to be photographed with, told Northern Ireland voters to trust and back their joint manifesto and tried to run interference over Cameron's comments.

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