The public has delivered a resounding ‘No’ to the introduction of more taxes — such as water charges — and have instead endorsed reductions in public spending as a better way to balance the books.
The latest results of the exclusive poll commissioned by the Belfast Telegraph have revealed that the overall margin for cuts over taxes is almost two to one in favour of cuts.
There is a clear majority across all social groups, even including civil servants who depend on taxpayers’ money for their jobs and pensions.
The 2,167 people surveyed were told that “current public finances are under strain” and were asked “Do you think any shortfall should be made up from cuts and efficiencies in public spending, or increased taxes and/or introducing local taxes such as water rates?”
More than a third of people (37%) offered no opinion. When these are stripped out, 65% of those who did give a view backed cuts and efficiencies while only 35% preferred increased taxation.
In the public sector, 38% offered no opinion, 39% favoured cuts and 23% backed taxation. This is a remarkable finding, given the campaign waged by public sector unions against cuts in pensions and other benefits to save money.
In the private sector, the majority for cuts over taxation was 43% to 16% but with a very large proportion (41%) offering no opinion.
Differences between men and women were marginal, but the majority for cuts over taxation was slightly lower among women.
Protestants were 43% in favour of cuts and 22% in favour of taxation; comparable figures for Catholics were 38% and 18% respectively.
This seems to be one area in which the politicians, who have pledged not to introduce water rates or increase other taxes in this assembly term, have got it right in terms of public opinion.
However, there was a very high proportion of ‘don’t knows’, ranging from 30% among 18 to 24-year-olds to 43% among those over 65 who tend to depend more on state services and benefits. This suggests that the equation could change in the future if cuts bite too deep.
Sammy Wilson, the finance minister, has said that he did not believe in introducing taxes until all the efficiencies possible had been achieved in spending.
That point may be approaching as attempts by the Government to increase revenue from sources like parking charges and fines show. The planned green levy on plastic bags is another example which looks likely to be extended to all shopping bags, including those which are recyclable.
A consultation paper on water finance, which will include an option for water charges, is likely to be issued soon, though any change would not take place until after the next election in 2015 or 2016.
Currently this tax is raised in England and Wales but not here. However our block grant, based on spending across the water, assumes we charge it and a deduction is made by the Treasury under the Barnett formula.
The resulting shortfall is made up by reducing spending in other departmental budgets.
In 2009, the cost was estimated as £500m a year. Just this week, it emerged that £35m was needed to renew the drainage system in east Belfast.
Many deep cuts already made in England have yet to work their way through to our block grant. They will inevitably make achieving a balance between services, taxation and income more painful.
For full statistics analysis visit Lucid talk