Belfast Telegraph

Jobs cull a legacy of past largesse

Editor's Viewpoint

The unseemly rush to shed jobs in the public sector, starting with the Northern Ireland Civil Service, is due to the past profligacy of the Executive which left it unable to balance its books and which now has to introduce years of austerity to compensate for the errors which went before. Given a longer time to implement the cuts, natural wastage would have been a cheaper option.

While cuts to the number of civil servants only mirrors the kind of savings already introduced in other parts of the UK, such was the pressing need to tighten the purse strings in the province that haste has taken over from careful planning.

There seems little doubt that the target of 2,400 redundancies among civil servants will be met easily but it could mean quite an upheaval in the smooth running of government.

The main criteria for redundancies appears to be how cheaply they can be achieved, meaning those with the shortest service will have the greatest chance of obtaining the compensation packages.

But these could come from any department of the civil service, meaning that remaining staff would have to be redeployed to ensure that departments which are especially denuded of workers can maintain services.

And the redundancies will be followed swiftly by the reorganisation of departments, cutting the total from 12 to nine and, inevitably relocating some functions.

However, this is the first step towards a slimmer and possibly more efficient Executive and that is to be welcomed. The cost of our government is much too high, especially at a time when essential services are being starved of funds.

The slimming of the civil service is also part of the overall plan to rebalance the economy which is far too dependant on the public sector. Up to 20,000 jobs are likely to be shed in the public sector in areas like health and education over the next four years.

The acid test for the Executive will be to entice into the province replacement high value private sector jobs. The newly-won ability to vary the rate of corporation tax is one incentive to would-be investors but they also need to be convinced of stable government and lack of problems on the streets.

These are times which will test the mettle of our politicians as seldom before.

Belfast Telegraph

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