WHY WAS THIS NECESSARY?
Have looked over the UUP’s finance document ‘Putting Things Right’.
It is a curious thing. Why has it been released at this time?
This is ostensibly a finance document, but it contains little financial information in it. Set the jargon to one side, there are no numbers in this document. This is a white paper for NI finances and it contains no figures. I might have expected a couple of appendices with info lifted out of the last budget but nothing.
Why are there no references in it? Why no evidence of a bit of cross-referencing or citations etc – anything to demonstrate research / authority / thoroughness / policy / context?
This paper meanders in non-specific way around about the Devolution of Policing and Justice; how the Assembly should legislate better; the next Tory government; the leadership of the UUP; and so on…
This finance paper doesn’t contain any of the hallmarks one might expect from a finance-focused papers… because this isn’t a finance paper.
To my mind, it’s about leadership ambitions. The opening sentence reads:
The Ulster Unionist Party is committed to offering the leadership Northern Ireland needs as we face difficult economic times. We are committed…
Etc etc. It looks a bit like how an updated version of McNarry’s 2006 candidacy speech might appear.
Also, this entire document feels like an extended introduction. You keep waiting from the analysis, or the alternative prospectus, but it doesn’t arrive. This is typical of the problem:
We need to demystify the current situation, to put to bed the many myths about public finance and to set about creating a really efficient and cost-effective delivery system for government in Northern Ireland which is focused on value for money while at the same time restructuring the Northern Ireland economy in a way that is positive and beneficial for all our people.
Well, yes. How? We can’t be told.
So how do we respond to Northern Ireland’s emerging budget crisis? None of us will know this conclusively until the Finance Minister comes clean and we really know what the books say.
If this is true, then why are we reading this paper?
The paper suggests a contingency fund. Isn’t this the finance package which the entire executive failed to get from GB in 2007 when the public finances weren’t in turmoil?
So is this really the plan? Go back to GB and ask him for something he said no to 2 years ago? Can this really be described as a new idea?
On policing and justice, the UUP says:
Any financial package for the transfer of policing and justice powers needs to be rigorously tested for its financial sustainability, risk management and contingency planning against potential shortfalls and it should be rolled out over a five year period initially being funded entirely by Westminster. Only then, on the basis of the outcomes of this five year period, should it be fully transferred.
So in addition to the new financial package/contingency fund, the UUP will ask for a second financial package for P&J. Elsewhere, the paper chides the DUP in the following way:
The present DUP-Sinn Fein coalition lacks vision. They diminish Northern Ireland’s integrity when negotiations lack focus, shape and design and appear to be little more than an issue by issue cap in hand approach to Westminster.
But isn’t this contingency package and P&J finance plan ‘an issue by issue cap in hand approach’? Elsewhere, the UUP says this:
Self-reliance, responsible management of the Northern Ireland budget, and forward planning must replace the dependency culture which has shackled the ability of Northern Ireland PLC to succeed.
How will demanding loadsamoney from Westminster strike a blow for self-reliance?
But if the UUP gets what they ask on P&J, then in effect they are agreed to immediate devolution of P&J. (Bear with me, because I know the opposite is being reported elsewhere.)
If McNarry gets his money then he says roll out of P&J should begin. So the UUP has shifted the test from community confidence to finance and in so doing they now signal that community confidence is no longer an issue. The UUP has not set a ‘2014 veto’, surely it has weakened the present open-ended veto?
Once the devolution of policing and justice gets underway (immediately says the UUP) – how will they control the pace of full implementation thereafter? In truth, they can’t. It’s only a matter of time before republicans see past the 2014 red herring and exploit this gap in UUP thinking.
And isn’t the following a brave/dangerous thing to say when your party’s MLA are elected in the final rounds, or when your leader’s department (as last pick) is the one that would naturally get rationalised?
The Assembly has already indicated its desire to rationalise the number of departments. So let us do it – now. The Assembly has indicated its desire to reduce the number of MLA’s. So let us do it – now. The assembly has indicated its support for a reduction in the number of non –essential Quango’s. So let us do it – now. That is what the Ulster Unionist Party is clearly saying.
Do they really mean to say this?
Issuing policy papers is a valuable process. However this is not a policy paper. This looks to me more like positioning of a personality as opposed serious finance. It contains gaps and seeming incongruities that require clarifying. It creates more problems than it solves.
The media reporting has been generous so far, but with respect to the author – and for the sake of a quiet life down-the-line – this paper ought never to have seen the light of day.