Belfast Telegraph

Financial predictions make grim reading

Editor's Viewpoint

If anyone is in any doubt about the crisis facing Northern Ireland government departments, then it should be dispelled by the document released by civil servants yesterday.

What the financial credit check shows is a province plunging deeper and deeper into the mire, with services facing severe cuts almost right across the board and even the most desperate efforts to save the crumbling health service falling short of the radical measures required.

It is taken as a given that the health service and education budgets should be ringfenced and enhanced, but that can only be done by either slashing the budgets of other departments or by introducing revenue raising measures such as a 10% increase in rates, doing away with free prescriptions and increasing the age at which free transport becomes available, or by some combination of the above.

The scenarios painted by the civil servants for the next two years are frightening. There has been much talk of austerity before now, but we have seen nothing yet according to the figures released.

Of course, these are only projections of what actions are required, but civil servants do not want to take over the role of politicians. Either Secretary of State James Brokenshire or our local parties will have to take these hard decisions.

It would be a denial of democracy to allow civil servants to make the sort of decisions that normally fall to elected representatives. After all, they would be totally unaccountable to the public, who may see different priorities for the budgets in the coming two years.

The political parties, who now have washed their hands of any responsibility for governance of the province for almost exactly a year, seem unfazed by the various crises facing the public - the health service, schools plunging into the red, infrastructure projects stuck on the drawing board and policing running on a reduced budget, among others.

In spite of ritual protestations of wanting devolution restored, there is absolutely no indication of talks to resolve the impasse or even an inclination by the two major parties to be civil to each other.

Some people might argue that we get the politicians we vote for and that is true to an extent, but we also voted for them to restore devolved government. When services begin to fail and more money is taken out of our pockets, the well-paid politicians may face a very discontented electorate.

Belfast Telegraph

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