Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

The Treasury

Hopefully David Gauke, the Exchequer Secretary, and his fellow Treasury Ministers haven't found time to read the manifestos and Press statements issued by our parties in recent weeks.

Viewed from Whitehall, some of the economic pledges must make fairly eye-watering reading.

Here is a region crying poverty, with leaders who keep demanding a meeting with the Prime Minister to say they are being ripped off on the block grant.

Yet they won't raise revenue where they can and tell the electorate that they can pay for everything by cutting back on waste in their existing spending plans.

So which is true, Gauke and his colleagues may ask as they slash back services in mainland UK.

Is Northern Ireland pushed to the pin of its collar? Or is there still plenty of fat there to be cut?

Our politicians are sending a mixed message. The DUP leads the way with its boast that Northern Ireland has the lowest family taxation anywhere in the UK, but Sinn Fein and the others aren't far behind.

The five partners in the last Executive all aim to cut corporation tax from the present rate to 12.5% - 10% in the case of the DUP's proposal.

They argue that the revenue shortfall of around £300m will be made up by increased investment in the medium-term and can be met by reducing waste in the short-term.

With the sole exception of Alliance, they all argue that there is no need for water rates, either, and the shortfall in revenue - estimated at anything up to £500m - can be met from efficiencies in other departments.

All this undermines the case for additional subsidies from London.

Yet if we don't get the help we say we need, most of the parties argue that we can pay what is necessary without raising a penny in tax locally, or making any painful cuts.

All the money we need is already there in efficiencies, waste and hidden pots of cash locked up in the Harbour Commission, or other arms-length bodies.

David Ford had one of the best lines of the election campaign when he said, on the BBC leaders' debate, that there will be so many U-turns on issue like water charges that it won't be safe to cross the road.

One thing is clear: our leaders need to get their stories straight before pleading poverty to London.

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