Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Draconian cuts will hit us hardest of all

David Cameron

This newspaper has been consistent in pressing the Con-Lib coalition government to deal fairly with Northern Ireland when deciding the level of public spending cuts to be imposed on the province.

Our argument is quite simple. There are special reasons why draconian cuts could have a much greater impact here than in other regions of the UK. These include the historic lack of investment in infrastructure; the huge reliance on the public sector both as an employer and as a purchaser of services including large capital projects from the private sector and, not least, the continuing security threat from dissident republicans.

In his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference, the Prime Minister made special mention of Northern Ireland. He said it was right to apologise for the deaths of Bloody Sunday and he vowed to continue to protect the peace process and fight terrorism with every means possible. He also made it clear that the province is an integral part of the UK and will stay so.

But he also made it clear that public spending cuts generally will be severe — with many government departments having their budgets slashed by around 7% for each of the next four years. Only the health service will be immune from cuts.

The one glimmer of hope comes in the shape of a £1bn regional growth fund to stimulate enterprise in regions where the private sector is weak. This surely must include — and in large measure — Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, there is no magic bullet to reshape the local economy. Increasing the private sector will be a lengthy process, in some views up to 25 years.

In the meantime, insensitive cuts to the Northern Ireland budget would be catastrophic to the local economy and put back recovery for many years. Mr Cameron said citizenship is not a transaction where you put in taxes and get services out, but a relationship where it matters what people think and feel and do. He knows how we feel. Will he take heed and treat us with relative compassion?

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