Belfast Telegraph

Stormont Executive is incapable of making tough financial decisions


THE welfare reform debacle shows that the Executive is incapable of making tough financial decisions. Up to now it has got by nipping, tucking and trimming around the edges of a budget handed down from Britain.

The easy choices are now over, the fat has largely been trimmed and we are top slicing close to the bone.

Health is in crisis. Whatever merits Edwin Poots' Transform Your Care (TYC) strategy has it is clear that Health needs more, not less money, in the short term while the changes he seeks are implemented.

Seven weeks since Peter Robinson, the First Minister, heard that five patients at the Royal Victoria Hospital's A&E may have died because they were not treated quickly enough.

He put out the fire with an offer to "top slice" other departmental budgets if that is what it took to help health.

"If Edwin comes to the executive on the basis of advice from professionals within his department and indicates that the issue is about finance, then my hand will go up to give him whatever support he requires," he said. Now the talk is of top slicing health itself to maintain benefit rates.

We have already top sliced everything else to cover the cost of our improved student loans and to avoid levying local taxes like water rates.

Student loans, low taxes, the health service and a better welfare system than the rest of Britain are all worthwhile and popular causes but in politics, or life, you can't get everything you want.

Leadership means negotiating priorities and makings tough choices.

Rushing to put out fires with the promise of more money and avoiding difficult decisions is the mark of a dysfunctional government.

In the case of Welfare reform the bill for collective indecision can't be put off much longer.

Mr Hamilton's figures may be inflated, for instance he doesn't subtract out the £43.7 million that implementing the reforms with the modifications agreed would cost us this year.

However there is no denying that, over a few years the cost will rise steeply and our options will get more limited.

Belfast Telegraph

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