Belfast Telegraph

Calling in mandarin would be admission of failure

By Liam Clarke

Stephen Peover is a much respected senior Stormont mandarin and as level a head as you would find to administer the economy.

Yet calling him in would be a disastrous admission of failure.

It would be the equivalent of a firm calling in the receivers because it was unable to administer its affairs or balance its books. Mr Peover would be strictly constrained by statute and would be forced to play a conservative hand.

It would also send out a message that the Executive had failed in the most basic duties of a devolved administration, which is to keep within budget.

It would be difficult to justify the devolution settlement, and all the MLAs, after such an abdication of responsibility.

Sinn Fein believes that if we push harder we may get more concessions from Britain to help the welfare claimants without slashing other programmes to pay for it.

There is an election coming next year across the UK. It is hard to think of a reason why British MPs would treat us more favourably than their own constituents who are already suffering under the new welfare regime. That is at best a long shot and at worst a pipe-dream.

The compromise already agreed with Westminster would blunt some of the harshest measures. For instance, existing tenants here would be protected from the bedroom tax for five years or until they are offered a smaller house.

Implementing even that would cost £43.7 million this year, £41.9m next year and around £29m for the three years after that.

That is as good as it is likely to get. At this stage we have got to manage with that unless we are prepared to either increase local taxes like rates or cut our budgets in areas like health, education and economic development.

Those are our choices. They are not ideal, but if we can't manage them we can't manage our own affairs. Hopefully, when the elections are over, our politicians will rise to the challenge and make a collective decision.

If they can't, then demanding control over other areas of the economy, like the devolution of corporation tax, begins to look ludicrous.

Belfast Telegraph


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