Budget cuts must create real savings
Published 22/12/2009 | 08:00
The announcement of an estimated £370 million cut in next year's Stormont budget is no surprise after a year of severe financial pressures and the continuing global monetary uncertainty.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has been less than forthcoming about the details of the proposed cuts. He was right to emphasise, however, that they should be first announced to the Assembly - in line with Parliamentary procedure.
Mr Wilson is hoping that the details will be made public in February, and this time-span should give the politicians ample time to provide clarity and a convincing rationale for the economies which need to be made.
It is vital that the cuts be targeted as the result of proper case studies, and that the proposals will lead to genuine reductions in overall expenditure rather than leading - literally - to false economies.
The public is braced for the bad news, in the same way that people in the Irish Republic were largely prepared for the Dublin Government's stringent Budget recently.
Nevertheless it is important that the Stormont cuts will not unduly penalise front-line staff in health, education and other areas where public confidence and well-being are of paramount importance.
Whatever is decided, it is already clear that the deferral of water charges, the huge cost of dealing with swine flu and civil servants' back pay may provide the main budget pressures for next year.
Sammy Wilson has said that early action is necessary and that "difficult decisions" have to be made. So far the Stormont authorities have been less than impressive in their decision-making, but it is the job of politicians to give a lead and to govern. So let them get on with it.