Public services will be the hot topic in May election
The Stormont House Agreement and the Fresh Start implementation plan has been outlined, and the Assembly's commitment to fund voluntary exit schemes in the civil and public services. These were facilitated by the Treasury agreeing "flexibility" to divert £700m of capital borrowing for the purpose.
Staff to leave the civil service in the final tranche have now been identified, just as the consequences for public services of this scheme and the "unquestionably real-terms reductions to our Block Grant" cited by the First and deputy First Minister in their introduction to Fresh Start become clearer.
One department has been quite explicit, with DRD signalling (in a memo to staff in July 2015) a "Routine Road Maintenance - Skeleton Service". The DRD deputy secretary noted: "I fully realise that staff on the ground are having to deal directly (or through correspondence) with members of the public who often vent their anger and express their unhappiness at the levels of service that Transport NI is providing at present."
In December 2015, the director of engineering issued a memo to all staff noting revised inspection frequencies for road maintenance standards, indicating that they "are intended as a permanent measure brought as a result of the impact of the voluntary exit scheme on staffing levels".
This relaxation of the inspection regime will be felt by motorists, firstly in their tyres and secondly in their pockets.
We have an Assembly election scheduled for May and a commitment to further public expenditure cuts to pay for reduced corporation tax from April 2018.
It is surely reasonable to ask candidates, if elected, what public services would they cut and what services would they protect in the years ahead.
Newtownabbey, Co Antrim