Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Immaturity and governance

The general public would be right to ask why a process which started some seven years ago to reform local government in danger of collapsing due to a failure to meet legislative deadlines. They public may feel that given the time available those responsible could have managed the process better. The truth is yes they could. There is no single reason why this process should now be stalled. Instead there are several. The public should judge whether or not they are viable reasons.

Drawing up the boundaries for the new councils was always going to be fraught with difficulty. The balance between retaining local identity and the efficient delivery of services was always going to create tensions. For that reason a Boundaries Commissioner was appointed to take an independent view of these issues.

While local political parties and Councils could make representation, the decision was placed in the hands of an independent Commissioner. Imagine the situation if the decision was left to a Councillor from Belfast and a Councillor from Lisburn/Castlereagh to decide the boundary around Forestside or the Ice Bowl. Since whichever Council has Forestside has a significant income and whichever Council has the ice bowl has a significant liability in terms of upkeep, two opposing councillors in this situation will never agree.

Yet despite the independence of the Commissioner the process has one more hurdle. This hurdle is the Northern Ireland Executive where Belfast Councillor Sammy Wilson MP MLA Minister of Finance and Personnel, former Minister of the Environment, has one view and Lisburn Councillor Edwin Poots MLA, Minister of the Environment, apparently takes a different view.

The entire basis upon which the independent Boundaries Commissioner was appointed, to prevent this issue being stalled by two or more councillors taking opposing views, has been overridden. Logic and good governance would dictate that both Councillors would exclude themselves from this particular issue due to a conflict of interest, yet instead their narrow agendas combine to bring the process close to collapse.

While all of this has been going on, consultants PwC have been working on the economic appraisal of the various options to transform how councils work. This appraisal, recently released, has raised more questions about the outcome of the RPA than it has provided answers. Rather than starting the process by looking at what can be achieved by Northern Ireland’s councils working together, PwC have based their projections on previous experiences in carrying out similar work in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Since local government in the rest of the United Kingdom is very different PWC’s figures are based on guessing what the impact would be in Northern Ireland. In some areas costs which will fall to councils are ignored and in other areas savings which can be made are not counted. The result is an economic appraisal without any robust economic basis. The report has caused so much concern that Local Government Associations in England Scotland and Wales are writing to the Minister to warn him of their concerns.

The report suggests that local councils will be able to borrow the money to pay for the transformation they propose. However, projecting the savings to be made over 25 years seems more like wishful thinking than sound economics. Who 5 years ago would have predicted with any certainty where the economy would be today? Yet we are asked to accept at face value the figures given for a 25 year period. One Scottish council Chief Executive has informed us that they too were given such promises yet after 15 years they are still not seeing the benefits in financial terms.

Which brings us to the third issue, policing and justice. What might one ask has local government reform got to do with policing and justice? First we must recognise that Sinn Fein never wanted the 11 council model of local government, their preferred option was for 7 councils over which they would have more control. Unionism wanted a 15 council model until the DUP and SF agreed on 11. Now Sinn Fein see within the PwC report an opportunity to back out of the process citing the cost, abandon the reforms and come back at a later date asking for 7. This would leave the DUP holding the can for 7 years wasted effort within central and local government and many millions of pounds lost. Except, despite all their concerns about finance and desire for a 7 council model, Sinn Fein might, just might set aside their concerns if policing and justice was devolved to their timescale.

Should RPA go ahead? Of course it should. Over the past few years Councillors and staff have all identified the opportunities to deliver services to the community in a more effective and efficient manner. Working closely together the opportunities are there to deliver value for money at the same time as transforming our communities through community planning and improving the health of society by integrating sport and leisure with health and well-being. A spat between Councillors in the Executive, a poorly prepared appraisal and an opportunistic attempt at political bribery are signs of a dysfunctional Government unable to manage change not reasons to set aside a process that will improve the quality of life of our communities. The Ulster Unionist Party initiated this process because we had the foresight to prepare for a Government that will bring change for the better to people’s lives. We cannot allow those who have the mandate to govern but not the maturity to govern to take that change away.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Peter's u-turn moment

The news that the DUP have reneged on their promise to end double-jobbing comes as no surprise given their record of misleading people in previous elections. The rationale for the u-turn has raised a few eyebrows. Peter Robinson has put his decision down to considering “the extent to which the party organisation is able to provide us with the additional personalities to stand.” Peter, your party has never had a problem finding personalities, finding politicians, now that is another matter. To put the decision in context lets consider the case of Councillor Rev William McCrea MP MLA. No doubt with the news that he can continue to hold multiple jobs William is scouring the auction houses for walnut bookcases to match his walnut desk. Cllr Rev William McCrea MP MLA tells us that he spends 250 hours per month on Assembly business, given that an MP serving in a national Parliament should spend at least as much time as those in a devolved assembly on Parliamentary business, lets say he should be spending another 250 hours per month as MP. That’s 500 hours over 25 days giving him Sundays and two other days a month off (in Williams case he has another job for Sundays so he is not actually off). So that’s 20 hours a day William should be working (leaving out the fact that he also has to cover his role as Councillor). The truth is that it can’t be done and for unionism the sad fact is that it is the representation of the people of Northern Ireland in the national parliament that is suffering. Peter thinks it’s about the money, he is only partially right, greed is a factor. But it’s not the only issue. Many people across Northern Ireland are denied representation in national politics by abstentionist republican MPs. Many more are denied proper representation by almost abstentionist DUP MPs. At the time when republicans avoid Parliament then those elected for other parties by the people of Northern Ireland have a responsibility to be at Westminster more to ensure their voice is heard. The big issues of concern to the people of Northern Ireland such as taxation, pensions, Europe and the Barnett formula amongst others will be debated come the next Government. For the lack of a few “personalities” Peter Robinson will deny the people of Northern Ireland a voice. Where DUP candidates have double, triple or quadruple jobs lets make it clear there shall be no election of abstentionist DUP MP’s. The people have an opportunity to end this nonsense, it’s time for change.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

conference time

Only a few weeks ago I was listening to William Hague at the Conservative conference and on Saturday I had the opportunity to listen to him again at the Ulster Unionist Party conference. A seasoned performer Hague perhaps took on the leadership too early in his career but he will provide the backbone of Conservative Governments for many years. His attendance on Saturday continued the process of developing the partnership between the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists despite the attempts of other parties to introduce friction.
Like all major conferences the Ulster Unionist Party conference has become a carefully choreographed media event. Journalists attend because they have too but know that if they come away with a scoop it will be by accident more than design. By convention other constitutional parties are invited to send along observers, not every member is aware of this which can give rise to some interesting moments. The members of the DUP were easily spotted, obviously concerned at the large turnout and confident mood. Pauline Armitage was also there though members were not quite sure if she was back in the fold or at the conference representing someone else. The local Conservatives were much in evidence with their prospective candidates engaging widely with Ulster Unionists from across the country.
Amongst the positives, beyond the attendance and positive atmosphere, was the large number of young talented unionists actively engaged in the background. It is they who will carry the party forward for the next twenty or thirty years and many of them should be seeking opportunities to represent unionism in the next Assembly and Council elections. In terms of public relations and policy we have pulled together the best teams in Northern Ireland politics though no doubt their collective blood pressure was elevated over the weekend.
While the conference delivered all that we could have expected there are a few areas where we can try and make things better.
Ø The Ramada is a better venue in that it keeps the delegates closer to those organisations attending in order to inform or lobby them.
Ø Given the rise in social media the introduction of a video booth to record delegate’s views of speeches and issues would create another outlet for grassroots views.
Ø The need to keep to schedule foreshortened some of the debates and perhaps future conference organisers will consider whether conferences should be themed to provide the opportunity for more in depth debate.
When the biggest negative issue raised by the press was that Fred Cobain left early to see Crusaders (ignoring those who left early to see the blues and the Glens) then all in all a good days work.
This post also appears over at the Open Unionism blog.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Now for change

Last week was taken up with an excursion to the Conservative Party conference. Over the four days I had the pleasure of hearing from politicians with a real sense of how to govern and who understood how society works. It was clear that this is a party who expect to govern and rather than gloating accept the responsibility with a determination to meet the issues that face society head on. There is no expectation that the next 5 years will be easy, rather the opposite.
For Ulster Unionists the reception was warm and there was a real sense of being part of a wider UK movement. The challenge over the next 6mths is to spread the message and bring real politics to Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Apostles

The 12 apostles of the DUP have risen from their slumber and issued a direct challenge to the party leader Peter Robinson. In todays debate on the devolution of Policing and Justice a succession of senior DUP representatives led by an almost hysterical Rev McCrea stated clearly that the devolution of Policing and Justice was a non runner unless the confidence required was present in the Unionist community. While the UUP has focussed on both the finances and the competence to deliver a policing and justice service the DUP according to the Rev McCrea and his side-kick Mr Clarke demand the right to parade the Queens highway any where in Northern Ireland as the price to be paid for the devolution of policing and justice. Each to their own I suppose but clearly the 12 apostles were sending several shots very close to the good ship Peter. Is this the start of a leadership campaign in the DUP?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Money money money

Mr Macawber in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, explains the concept of budgeting thus. “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound nought and six, result misery.”

There has been a lot of talk and discussion about the current financial situation the UK finds itself in and for the average man in the street the discussions about millions and billions are meaningless unless they can relate the issues to their daily lives. This blog therefore is my attempt to portray the current situation as if the same issue affected an average family. At least it's my attempt to explain it as far as I understand it; please keep in mind I'm no Vince Cable.

Take the example of someone in a relatively stable job working 9 to 5. During times when business is good the management suggest that they start work at 8.30 and finish at 5.30 earning themselves some overtime and additional income. Over time they become used to having the extra money and it has worked its way into their normal budget. At the end of the week when the bills for electricity, heat, petrol, mortgage and car loan have been paid they have £100 left to spend on groceries which they happily do. They become used to a standard of living based on a certain income.

Then things change, the business isn't as profitable and management don't need that extra hour from the staff so overtime is cut. When the end of the week comes and the bills are paid there is only £75 left for groceries. Being used to a certain standard of living the individual still collects the same shopping as usual. They pay their £75 in cash and put the remaining £25 on their credit card in the sure and certain expectation that things will improve. This continues for a few weeks and becomes routine, since the same standard of living is maintained there is no need to look at alternatives, no need to change the way they shop, no need to look at the other bills to try and reduce them, no need to look for further income.

Then one day when the cash is paid and the credit card is handed over the cashier looks up expectantly and utters those dreaded words "I'm sorry but your card has been declined". The immediate consequence is to identify those elements of the weekly shop that you can do without in the short term but the longer term consequence is going to be more difficult. In future you won't have £75 to spend on groceries because you must add £10 to the existing bills to pay off the credit card loan. Thats fine if you can easily get by on £65 of groceries but what if the absolute minimum you need is £70 or £75. As Mr Macawber would point out: result misery. There were a number of choices which could have been made when the problem first arose, did the individual really need Sky Sports?, did they really need the car?, could they have taken a part-time job to make up their income?. At first deciding on any one of these may have addressed the short fall or alternatively a review of the weekly shop to look for better value may have meant a balanced budget. Now however as things have deteriorated the ability to choose a course of action is limited and the possibility exists that all options will have to be implemented.

Of course with hindsight there are lessons to be learnt. Don't expect that the maximum level of income available will be the norm. What would have been the outcome had the budget for groceries been set at £75 with any additional income set aside as savings? The focus on value for money may very well have been more pronounced and that £25 would have established a useful fund to be used for major items or a rainy day. Enough savings would have paid for the car rather than taking a further loan and paying the interest on the loan. The money left when the bills were paid would have been increased by the level of the car loan repayment.

And for Governments who wield the credit cards in the face of reduced income there are similar lessons, acting quickly gives you choices, delay and you will have others make choices for you. Credit is a useful business tool but there must be limits. Some things will have to wait until resources are available and some things we are paying for we do not need.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Gary McKinnon

The decision to allow the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the US on charges of hacking US defence computers raises a number of questions for both administrations. As an individual with Asperger's Syndrome the fate of Gary McKinnon must strike fear into the families of those with children or siblings with the same condition. The intense focus on a particular issue is a consequence of the syndrome and in many cases this could be a mundane subject such as cricket scores, trains or the weather. In Gary's case his focus was on the presence of UFO's and believing the US was covering up their existence he went looking for evidence. Using a normal computer with an internet connection he delved into the files of 97 US government computers looking for the evidence he believed was being hidden. He was identified while downloading a picture of what he believed was a UFO from one such computer to his own email address. He now faces a prison term of 60 years in a US maximum security prison. The question for the UK Government is to define the level of care provided to those with conditions such as Asberger's where the condition itself is not dangerous or threatening but its outworkings can leave individuals vulnerable.

For the US Government the questions are more practical. Having had their most secure computers infiltrated by someone in the UK with a basic computer and internet connection how secure can their systems be against the combined efforts of the Russians, North Koreans, China, Al Qaeda or any other intelligence service? Gary McKinnon has shown the US just how weak their defences are. The US should be thanking him and asking his advice not lashing out at an easy target.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Give them what they need.

Last week the small town of Wootton Bassett came to a standstill once again for the repatriation of soldiers killed in Afghaniston. Apart from the friends, family and comrades of the deceased few communities in the UK will understand the human cost of the conflict to the same extent as the people of Wootton Bassett.

There have been many articles written and opinions given by politicians and commentators on the current situation ranging from calling for an immediate withdrawal to calling for many more troops and resources on the ground. It is clear that many mistakes have been made by politicians on this occassion, it is not possible to fight wars on the cheap and surely the first question that should be asked before commiting troops is "Can we afford to do this?". If we can't then we either don't become involved or the town of Wootten Bassett comes to a standstill more and more frequently.

What is particularly galling about the situation in Afghanistan is that on so many occasions troops are fighting across the same territory they fought over last week or last month. A lack of boots on the ground inevitably means that territory won at such a high cost is surrendered so cheaply.

This is a military campaign being waged by a Government which, having decimated the covenant between the community at large and the armed forces that protect them, believes that bankers in the City of London deserve bailing out while soldiers in conflict zones can be left devoid of the resources needed to do the job. Of course we can only surmise that the army are clear on what the job was they were sent to do, given that the then defence secretary John Reid thought they would come home from the deployment without firing a shot.

The message is clear to any Government, give the military the resources to do the job or bring them home. The services are up to the mission, this Government isn't.

Monday, 15 June 2009

cuts or efficiency savings

The next general election will be fought on many issues, not least the actions of the incumbant in relation to their expenses. The real political issue will focus on the level of Government income available to run the country. All parties are agreed that when expenditure is greater than income something has to give and it is this something which will divide the political classes. In Northern Ireland we have hidden the fact that budgets are being cut in the relatively useless term "efficiency savings" spread evenly across all departments. This will no longer suffice, we are at the point where the difficult decisions have to be taken. A new Programme for Government is required which establishes the real priorities, to protect the weak, support our indigenous economy and allow for growth and development where real fiscal advantage can be gained. Infrastructure developments such as major roads are questionable when there is not the revenue to maintain the current infrastructure. Why build roads when people still live in unfit housing and we have a need of 40,000 new social housing units? Why continue to chase the ever elusive Foreign Direct Investment (usually attracted by a golden welcome) when our most successful businesses such as FG Wilson are struggling? Why does DSD continue to churn out masterplan after masterplan for town centre regeneration when it knows there is no investment to implement them?
Lets stop the nonsense about efficiency savings, lets tell people the truth, we don't have the money to do everything, then let us focus on those areas where we have to support people such as housing and improving health and invest heavily in those. Let us postpone those items that would be nice to have but we just can't afford at this time. People do it every day of the week with their own money, why can't Government do likewise?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

reshuffle or panic

Just as some of the DUP Minister's in the Executive are beginning to understand the scale of the task ahead in terms of governing they are to be shuffled off as Peter panics over the EU election result. While the result was bad, there is no doubt that this knee jerk reaction has the potential to make matters worse for the DUP and indeed for Northern Ireland. Any coalition government depends on the ability of the people around the table to communicate, albeit just on issues of policy. Continuously changing the dynamic means effectively starting from scratch again. Does Northern Ireland have the space or time for a new class taking Government 101?
So where did things go wrong for the DUP?
  • They allowed themselves to be frightened by Jim Allister, and it showed. The lack of interest in the post by anyone higher than a Councillor showed that they feared engagement with him, had someone of note risen to the challenge and actually took him on they would have at least shown some backbone. After all how can you take on Sinn Fein if you are frightened of a fellow unionist?
  • Diane Dodds was a bad candidate, despite all the words of support from the party leadership Diane is not known for her personal skills, debating skills or policy knowledge. In council she can put her hand up to vote when required, which in reality is all that most DUP Councillors are required to do.
  • Family politics gives some comfort that the people around you are trustworthy and supportive, but there comes a time when it just looks like greed, that time has come for the DUP.
  • The DUP campaign was poor and lacklustre, even the printed material screamed at people rather than talked to them. Rumours of catastophic mistakes abound. It became clear that the Director of Elections was out of his depth.
  • The strenuous efforts to keep Diane off the hustings stage with Jim Allister were pointless if there was no commitment to carry the policy through for 100% of the time. It would have been easier to hit all the hustings early in the campaign and draw the stings before the expectations grew towards the final week.
  • Voting for someone to be number one to keep someone else out is not going to be a good enough reason in the future. People have cottoned on to the cynical changes negotiated at St Andrews to establish the DUP election chant for the future, they don't like it.
  • Like it or not the DUP lied to a sizeable section of their support in 2007, they told some a vote for the DUP was a vote to enter Government, they told others a vote for the DUP was a vote to stay out of Government. Those chickens were always coming home to roost.

So what next !

Changing a few Ministers won't make much of a difference bar a few new faces, Nelson at DCAL will mean lots of Ulster -Scots funding and lots of money for Linfield but the arts in Northern Ireland are in for a financial drought. Peter Weir for DETI, hmmm I have seen the tears in DETI civil servants eyes, the less said the better. Plug Poots for Environment makes Sammy look like Stephen Agnews best friend.

The biggest change the DUP could deliver is to make devolution work. We used to complain that direct rule ministers flew in to Belfast, took decisions and flew out again. More and more the general public point out that while we may have not always liked the decisions at least we had some form of Government. Being in Government means being capable of governing and that Peter is the problem, to date the DUP have shown themselves incapable of governing. Putting that right is about changing attitudes not personalities.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

I'm back

After a hectic month of university essays and EU campaigning I have actually found my blog again. My last blog would appear to have been quite prophetic and since so much has happened in the intervening period I will try to comment succinctly on some of the issues over the next few days.

Saturday, 9 May 2009



The individual pictured above is rumoured to be a candidate for the forthcoming European Election. She was last seen in public waving a brown envelope outside the Electoral Commission office. She is known to have a particular phobia about barristers from Kells. Should you witness this person in public please contact your nearest journalist or failing that please ask her if she has any policies. You may not receive an answer from her as she is known to travel with a large contingent of political minders (hence the need for the big bus) whose sole responsibility is to prevent her having to answer questions. This process has been extensively trialed before the election with meetings across the country; rumours that she was caught out once and had to answer a question on her own have not been confirmed. When talking she repeatedly expresses a desire to "be number 1" although this is no longer believed to refer to the forthcoming election and will instead be presented as a desire to release a record. In this regard her association with this man is of most concern.

This man is known to have an extensive interest in the music industry. The music industry has no interest in him. His vocals are an acquired taste and are considered such a threat to the community at large that two policemen are required to accompany him at all times to prevent panic should he feel the need to break into song. The public are warned that should they observe this man approaching with an accordian strapped to his chest they should run in the opposite direction.

Others thought to accompany her include these individuals

This individual is now believed to be an advanced scout from another planet. It is believed that his home planet has a surface temperature several degrees warmer than ours hence his lack of concern in relation to global warming and a tendency to strip off his clothes (due to warmer temperatures clothes are not worn on his home planet). To assist the human race in understanding the motivations of this individual you are asked to open any conversation with "Sammy, what planet are you from?"

This man is a well known political hypnotist. He is used by the DUP to give messages to the public which are unpalatable but due to the hypnotic delivery can be communicated without a loss of face to the DUP leadership. Due to his previous association with the UUP there is a greater understanding of the effect he can have. Only now after several years are people actually realising that he is not opposed to sharing power with Sinn Fein despite having hypnotised UUP members into believing he was. Having studied him for some years we believe that he has been given his biggest task to date for the DUP. Post EU election he will be asked to convince the unionist community that they now have enough confidence for the devolution of policing and justice powers. He will do this by simply repeating, through many media sources, that the unionist community now has the confidence for policing and justice to be devolved. Eventually people will be hypnotised into believing that such confidence exists, those who do not believe it will believe they are in a minority and remain silent to avoid being ostracised. After the 8th June if you listen to Radio Ulster in the morning and hear Wendy Austin introduce him please turn off your radio to avoid entering a hypnotic state.

This individual having been stood down from his previous position was asked to run for the EU election. Having refused a request from Don Robinson his punishment is to accompany the candidate during the election. He is not permitted to answer questions, indeed within the assembly he is not allowed to ask them either.

Some DUP photos

Dodds family car gets a makeover for the election.

DUP meeting the public. (note absence of public or journalists)

Diane is placed in escape pod upon rumours Jim Allister is in town.

Hypnotist tries to get reduction in price of strawberries.

Note man on right in hypnotic state.

"Please Peter I've suffered enough. Don't make me do this for the whole campaign"

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Stealth tax

The decision of the Minister of Environment to boost Planning fees by 20% will come as some surprise to those of us who have listened to the First Minister's commitment to reducing the size and thence the cost of Government.

The Planning Service processing of planning applications is supposed to be a self financing arm of Government. The cost of delivering the service is meant to be met by those who make applications. Given the current downturn in the demand for new homes there is a resultant decrease in workload and income. Now in business terms the consequences are clear, an increase in costs or a reduction in staff. Yet is this to be the option in Government, especially where the First Minister and his Finance Minister are so commited to reducing the size of Government. What is to become of those staff who no longer have a sufficient workload, will they be redeployed to address the scandalous delay in the delivery of Area Development Plans? Will they be used to meet demands on planning service resources normally paid for under the normal budget process. Is this simply another stealth tax? If the priority is only to save staff then how does this fit with the priority to reduce the size of Government, if staff are not to be released where then are all the financial savings to come from?

Of course this issue does not stand alone in the scheme of things. The recent decision of the DRD Minister to approve a 10% hike in Translink fares only a few weeks after concerns were raised about the ability of the Executive to continue to fund free transport for Senior Citizens raises the same question. Are we simply watching an administration, frightened to tell the truth, introducing a series of stealth taxes on the people of Northern Ireland. Effectively the creation of a system where the public have no say in the priorities for government and where those leading the process have no experience of life outside the sheltered framework of politics, protected by political largess from the economic realities of life and decision making.

Fagan and the Artful Dodger were experts at distraction and pick pocketing, Peter and Nigel may soon be good enough for Stormont to replace the West End stage for our own production of Oliver.

Friday, 24 April 2009


The decision of the Government to severely limit the number of former Gurkha's who qualify to live in the UK shows that this Government is not only financially bankrupt but morally bankrupt as well. Those who have served this country so faithfully, at times with greater loyalty and commitment than some of its own citizens, deserve to be treated with the respect that their service has earned them.
Regretably, however, for this Government, the treatment of our armed services and the families of service personnel has never been a high priority. Indeed it is clear that the covenant between society and those who defend that society has been broken. Those who commit troops to war have a responsibility to ensure that they have the most appropriate equipment and support, that their families are cared for, that families are treated as equals in society and that those who leave the service are supported in adjusting to civilian life, including resettlement.

The Government has failed on so many fronts in this regard, yet even where they have tried to rectify the situation with the Service Personnel Command Paper we still find that here in Northern Ireland Sinn Fein are blocking its implementation. They are not the first to deny the rights of military personnel and they won't be the last but somehow the moral responsibility of a nation to its' troops must be met.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The budget

Once upon a time I managed an organisation which provided advice services, of which money advice was a significant element. When someone came to us for help, usually because they were close to despair, we reviewed their outgoings and their incoming finances and sought to achieve some form of balance. This usually meant reducing their spending and maximising their income until their debt was clear. We always warned about the long term consequences of borrowing more to fix short term problems.
Spending our way out of a recession is an economic theory above my pay grade but then I have difficulty working out how much of the debt we are taking on is spendable new money. After all isn't much of the debt to cover the losses by the banks and the remainder to cover the Governments costs in running services because of a reduced tax take. So, if spending our way out of the recession is the theory then we are only using a small percentage of the loans we are taking out to do that.
Apparently we are to find £15 billion in efficiency savings over the next few years. Any Government that was inefficient to the tune of £15 billion shouldn't be in power anyway, but is it not time that we told people the truth, we cannot do everything we want to with the money we have and some things have to be prioritised.
The biggest political challenge we now face is finding politicians who will tell people the truth on water rates, the regional rate and the limits on service delivery.
People have to live within their means, so do Governments.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Apprentice

It was never my intention when creating this blog that it should be used as a commentary on reality television. A few days in existence and that status has changed.

The current series of Sir Alan Sugar's The Apprentice has been aired now for a few weeks and features a candidate from Northern Ireland called Ben Clarke, who seems to lack either a good razor or a decent beard but has arrogance to burn. In a recent episode the contestants were asked to invent a new piece of exercise equipment for the home, Ben suggested a new sex toy. Which is why it has come as some surprise to hear that Ben has become a pin up and role model for the DUP. Trevor Clarke MLA, who is no relation to Ben, has stated in a press release "Ben offers an example to us all". If we accept that a considerable number of DUP followers do not equate fitness with sex toys there must be another reason why he is held in such high esteem.

One has only to look at the comments of Paula Jones, the contestant fired on the latest episode, to see what Ben has to offer as a DUP role model.

"Ben became completely unnecessarily aggressive towards me. I think he took it personally that I took him into the boardroom. He accepted no responsibility whatsoever and just behaved like a child, like a bully. He's very, very opinionated about everybody he comes into contact with and if you're going to behave in that way you've got to be pretty slick yourself and he just isn't. The lad's a no-mark. And it won't surprise me if he gets fired fairly soon, because nobody likes a bully."

Ben's personal attributes make him a perfect role model for the DUP. Indeed were his name Robinson, Dodds or McCrea then his career would already be mapped out for him. So perhaps a piece of advice for young Ben, if you want to earn £250,000 a year with a penthouse in London, a home in Belfast and a villa in Florida don't change your job, change your name. You already have everything else you need.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A little concern

"A little concern" the phrase used by a DUP insider to describe current preparations for the forthcoming European election. The normally unflappable DUP appear to be concerned at how they are being received across the country. Having had difficulty in persuading anyone to consider running for the position (apart from a few Councillors and rumour has it one MLA who saw the writing on the wall for his selection chances next time round) the DUP selected a big name. Unfortunately having the name is not the same as having the profile. Confident that the Shankill Road Councillor would appeal to the rest of the province the campaign, under the direction of a junior minister no less, started with each MLA ordered to take the Shankill Councillor for a day and "get her known". This process has been supplemented with a series of roadshows where the candidate, accompanied by senior party figures, gets to answer questions from the, generally speaking, party faithful. Not only have these events not been as successful as anticipated, the Shankill Councillor has failed to shine. Indeed her party colleagues have answered so many questions for her the faithful are doubting whether she could deliver anything in Europe. Indeed things have got so bad that the normally reliable rural DUP voter is looking at his milk cheque and wondering who will improve his income. They are choosing either of the two Jim's as they at least have an understanding of the issues affecting farmers. A radical shift in DUP strategy is apparently on the cards with the Shankill Councillor being sent back to the city to get out the normally euro-reticent urban voter. All of this has consequences for the campaign director, who has not yet earned the trust of the faithful, and the party leader who appointed him. The whispering campaign has already started against Robbo and a poor result followed swiftly by the devolution of policing and justice will see the DUP enter a Westminster campaign with serious questions about the leadership and direction of the party.

William's outrage

The outrage expressed by the Rev William McCrea over comments made by Barbra DeBrun at Easter is not really surprising. What is surprising is that the Rev McCrea seeks to differentiate between Ms Brown and the rest of the Republican leadership. Surely even William can see that her views are the views of republicans, full stop. Those with whom William shares power take no other view than that expressed. William fears that should Ms Brown be elected top of the forthcoming European election this message will be released across the world. Yet he fails to note the globetrotting peacemaking gurus from Stormont who have spread their message worldwide. When Martin talks to the political representatives of the people of Iraq does he say anything different than Ms Brown, William should know since his party colleague Jeffrey Donaldson is frequently part of the peace selling team. When Martin and Peter talk to Presidents and Princes does Martin denounce the Provisonal movement, does Peter? William had a chance to take a stand on principle. He chose not to. The republican movement speaks with one voice and no matter what that voice says William will stand shoulder to shoulder with it in the partnership he and his colleagues have created.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

O Catiline

"When, O Catiline, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now? Do not the nightly guards placed on the Palatine Hill--do not the watches posted throughout the city--does not the alarm of the people, and the union of all good men--does not the precaution taken of assembling the senate in this most defensible place--do not the looks and countenances of this venerable body here present, have any effect upon you? Do you not feel that your plans are detected? Do you not see that your conspiracy is already arrested and rendered powerless by the knowledge which every one here possesses of it? What is there that you did last night, what the night before-- where is it that you were--who was there that you summoned to meet you--what design was there which was adopted by you, with which you think that any one of us is unacquainted?"


"Longing not so much to change things as to overturn them." Cicero