Almost 40 years ago Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said: "Pennies don't fall from Heaven, they must be earned here on Earth."
During the pandemic pennies and pounds of Government spending have been raining down in monsoon proportions.
In yesterday's spending review, a stand-in for a Budget and a more short-term affair than the previously scheduled multi-year comprehensive spending review, Rishi Sunak didn't really explain when and how he is going to unwind the huge increase in borrowing. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is now forecasting UK Government borrowing for 2020-21 at £394bn.
Here are some of the changes in the spending review along with implications for Northern Ireland:
l An extra £0.9bn through the Barnett formula for the Executive. That brings the extra money for the Covid response to about £3.5bn so far. That places the Executive in the unusual position of trying to find further schemes to spend all that money. Ironically, the increase in funding to Stormont more or less mirrors the planned reduction in international aid spending in 2020-21, ie £4bn.
l The Chancellor reduced the planned increase in the National Living Wage for April 2021 from £8.72 an hour to only £8.91, instead of the planned £9.21. According to Nisra figures from last year, some 13.4% of earners here in 2016 received pay rates within 20 pence of the NLW level - a higher proportion than in Britain.
l The Chancellor confirmed the rumours that the Armed Forces are to be strengthened by an extra £16bn for hardware and IT over the next four years. This could create market opportunities for local businesses, and indeed R&D. About 8,000 people are employed in the cluster of firms working in aerospace here, mostly civilian but with some current defence work. There could be scope for the Belfast shipyard to be part of a consortium building new Royal Navy warships.
l A wage freeze is being applied to some of the public sector outside healthcare. This will be unpopular given Northern Ireland's relatively large public sector - about a quarter of total employment here compared to a sixth in Britain - but even before the pandemic and furlough occurred average pay in the public sector here was substantially higher than that in the private. That gap widened in 2020.
The Chancellor's spending statement was accompanied by economic forecasts. OBR's forecast of a 11.3% decline in UK GDP in 2020 is in line with recent forecasts from the IMF and Bank of England indicating a roughly 11% decline.
Our estimate for the local economy is for a decline of about 12-14% this year. OBR indicates a partial recovery for the UK economy in 2021 with growth of 5.5.%. According to OBR, it will take until the end of 2023 to return to pre-crisis level - and even longer for Northern Ireland.
Dr Esmond Birnie is senior economist at the Ulster University Business School