Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

Danny Alexander’s day in the trenches…

This video has just been uploaded to the HM Treasury youtube account. It tracks Danny Alexander across the best part of 12 hours during the CSR announcements. He starts off perky enough but the realisation that a Paxo interview lies in wait starts to dawn on him at about 3mins 50secs. It’s an alternate view to CSR day which I found a little more interesting.

I’ve also uploaded the full CSR doc into the widget.


Filed under: business, Coalition Government, Conservatives, economy, finances, liberals, , ,

TUV’s turn to publish economic proposals…

By thefreshthinking

The TUV are the latest party to publish proposals on how to cut spending, their effort published by Economics Spokesman David Vance certainly kicks the pants off the UUP’s effort.

The proposals mostly either don’t make sense or look a bit familiar though….

1.  Expensive North-South Bodies costing £100m per annum must go. This will yield Half a Billion Pounds in savings over the next five years, a massive contribution.

Getting rid of them won’t save all their costs, in a lot of cases it would mean that seperate bodies would have to be set up in both juristictions to carry out their functions.  Certainly there are potential savings though, so it’s a fair suggestion on Vance’s part, nothing like £100m though.

2.       Northern Ireland’s Quangos cannot be afforded any longer and it is time that they too were thrown on the financial bonfire. This will save further millions, as will curbing squander on overuse of consultants.

The DUP having been moving to reduce the number of quangos for some time.  Sinn Fein thought of getting rid of quangos last week.

The curbing of the use of consultants is already underway.

3.       TUV would seek to provide a shield to people in low paid jobs by insisting that a pay ceiling of £100,000 must be accepted by Management before any jobs cuts are even considered.

Is this in the private sector?  If so how is the state going to intervene in the activities of private companies?  It’s certainly not within the remit of the Assembly to implement such a policy.  If it is the private sector it’s a bit rich Jim criticising SF for being Marxists earlier this week.

If this is the public sector Sinn Fein proposed something similar last week.  They were in favour of a pay freeze for civil servants paying the top rate of income tax.

4.       All abuse of Welfare, including DLA, needs to be scrutinised as a priority and offenders weeded out.

Re-assessing those on DLA is a coalition government policy

5.       Bloated costs of Government here need to end. Cutting 108 MLA’s down to 60, reducing their expenses and their generous allowances would also make a meaningful contribution.

Robinson says he wants to reduce it to 75 MLA’s, so the TUV thinks of a different number?  60 MLA’s works out at 4 MLA’s per constituency over 15 constituencies, Robinson’s proposing 5 per constituency over 15 constituencies.

Filed under: business, Coalition Government, economy, finances, TUV, ,

You heard it here first… sadly

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By bobballs

The UUP has produced its response to the economic crisis.

I’m afraid its appalling. Nevertheless, it may have achieved what it was designed to do – gain a headline in The News Letter.

Its four key demands on the economy are:

  1. The coalition Government must produce its economic paper on rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy immediately. This must include specific proposals on Corporation Tax and Enterprise Zones.
  2. The Executive must review its economic development spending to ensure that areas which give the highest economic return are developed. For example the creative industries and tourism.
  3. The Executive must continue to prioritise upskilling, research and development and strategic capital investment to ensure mid and long-term economic growth.
  4. The Executive should introduce an Emerging Markets Strategy to ensure that Northern Ireland companies have the correct links to and networks in emerging economies such as India, China, Brazil and Russia.

Demand 1 reprises the UCUNF manifesto. Demand 2 urges the Executive to invest in wealth creating industries. Well, they’ve spotted that. And has the UUP heard about the Matrix Panel? Demand 3 demands something that’s happening already. Demand 4 is a call for the creation of Invest NI.

This is a poor document. The Sinn Fein paper was a poor document. This is the economic wisdom that’s supposedly driving forward our economic recovery.

McNarry has a history of going on ill-advised solo runs over the economy. As in August last year, this should never have seen the light of day. Why did Tom Elliott allow his name to be associated with this?

Filed under: economy, finances, UUP, ,

Sinn Fein Non-Economics

Fair Deal over on Ultonia translated Sinn Fein’s postion on the budget crisis into a photo of a monkey with his fingers in his (or her) ears.

Responding to the First Minister’s comments on the issue, Sinn Fein’s economic genius Mitchell McLaughlin said: “It’s incredible that Peter Robinson is inviting ministers to anticipate the cuts before we even get the budget statement on 20 October.”

He added that cuts “proposed or imposed by the British government must be challenged and resisted”.

It is a well known fact from when the Coalition Government was formed that cuts, cuts and more cuts were going to be the focus of Government. Sinn Fein’s non-economics is a typical response from a party that believes that our own Government should be paying for what thirty years of violence and murder orchastrated by the IRA cost this region in economic terms. Sinn Fein should be working to develop Northern Ireland and repair the damage that they created.

The first thing that they should be doing is sitting down with all parties on the Executive and working to resolve the situation in order to manage it as effectively as possible. However instead they are behaving like monkeys out to blame the ‘British’ Government for the situation we have found ourselves in. How responsible, eh? Nevertheless how is this new given the fact that they have blamed the same Government for oppression dating back centuries.

Filed under: devolution, finances, power sharing, Sinn Fein, This week, Uncategorized

UUP Treasurer on party finances…

I snatched a few minutes with UUP Treasurer Mark Cosgrove yesterday to talk about party finances. I’ve uploaded the video below…

This interview was ad hoc, but I’d like it to be the start of something more permanent and consistent. I do like the idea of giving representatives the opportunity to speak without interruption and in a constructive and relaxed fashion. So I will hopefully get more short snippets arranged over the next few weeks. The only real barrier is finding the time to do this, but I’m keen to push it.

If anyone knows of a representative (in particular DUP or TUV) who’d be open to doing a short clip for this blog then do drop me a line.

Filed under: finances, UUP,

Retrofitting reality onto the ‘All-Island Economy’TM

By St Etienne

This post from the Partial Reporter reminded me of a bit of fact finding dug up towards the end of last year, and provides a welcome distraction from the current media sideshow on matters less important:

– £2.68m: Total amount spent by InvestNI on all-island bodies & events in 2008
– £1.16m: Total amount spent by InvestNI on EU-wide trade missions & marketing in 2008
– $282m: GDP of Republic of Ireland
– $18.39trillion: GDP of the EU
Invest NI spend source: Freedom of Information Act Request

The Republic of Ireland presents us with a market of 4.4 million people. The EU single market means access to 440 million. Who would an economist spend more on attracting?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: finances, power sharing

The big task that’s facing the next UK government…

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By St Etienne

Just a quick(ish!) note to highlight an important contribution from respected journalist & historian Max Hastings on just how big a task the next government will have in the UK. Food for thought, and locally is indicative why we need a strong showing not just for the Tory-UUP alliance at the next election but for the idea within conservatism generally that the tenure must be prepared to lead a wide-ranging rethink on British lifestyle and attitudes.

For those unwilling to register to view the article, a synopsis follows:

As if emerging from a shelter after an air raid, many people look around, behold an apparently un scarred landscape and say: “Was that the financial crisis, then? It wasn’t so bad.” Such a view seems to represent monumental self-delusion… It seems hard to overstate the pain in store when the next government embarks on the steps necessary to restore the public finances. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have wrecked the economy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Conservatives, finances, guest blogger

Is Robinson’s axe bearing down on the wrong bureaucracy?

Peter Robinson’s speech targeting the ‘political bureaucracy’ this morning was message crafted with publicity in mind. While it achieved this, we must be clear that the public policy ramifications are opaque at best.

The speech followed Gordon Brown’s lead in admitting that cuts are coming in public finances. The DUP have stubbornly refused to admit the trouble that the Northern Ireland budget is in for more than a year – but with the national debate moving on beyond 1970’s rhetoric, Robinson has also, correctly, moved his argument on. Whilst he sought to save face by rejecting SDLP and UUP papers on the public finances as “economically illiterate”, this was clearly a change in tack.

Northern Ireland’s “political bureaucracy” is a burden which we cannot afford to carry going forward, and should be the first port of call for the cuts agenda was the adapted old message in the speech. The BBC evening news carried this as the headline, and took several positive interviews from the business community, who told us that the peace agreement structures should be dispensed with.

The UUP have not engaged with this debate well, however for good and understandable reasons. Whilst the Nationalist parties oppose such overtures on the basis of Belfast Agreement safeguards, the UUP cannot so easily stand on such ground. They are also caught in the headlights of their own message of fiscal responsibility and small government. In reality, Robinson’s blunt phrase “political bureaucracy” has two elements.

Firstly, the Executive is without doubt very large. Eleven departments with 14 Ministers for our population is extremely cumbersome. In seeking to find function for such a number of departments, policy responsibility is split in a way that can at times seem rather arbitrary, and can slow the process of government through lack of engagement between departments with close to overlapping responsibility. The number was subject to much more negotiation during the Belfast Agreement talks than may seem reasonable, but from a Nationalist perspective a large number guarantees a strong voice in the consociational Executive Committee.

On the matter of cost, UUP Leader Sir Reg Empey has correctly pointed out that it matters little how many times the number of civil servants is divided for as long as you keep the same number. Simply reducing the number of departments in pursuit of economy is little more than tinkering around the edges.

The second element is the Assembly, which on the face of it also seems large when one considers that it has more members than the Senates of the United States, Australia and Canadian. It is here however that it appears that the argument becomes subtly sinister.

The number of Assembly members was devised, it is generally accepted, to ensure that both Gary McMichael and David Ervine were elected and that the loyalist paramilitaries had their representatives. In the event, only Ervine was successful. However the method of election, the single transferable vote of 6 members per constituency, was also adopted with minority representation of a broader kind in mind. It was to ensure that a Nationalist was returned in Lisburn, and a Unionist guaranteed in Londonderry. It arguably also ensured the survival of the Alliance Party.

What we are left with is a mathematical balance that guarantees a strong opposition to the lead parties in each ‘tribe’. Whilst this was probably not a concern for the powers that be at Whitehall in 1998, today it proves a useful counterbalance.

Arguing that Northern Ireland needs a 108 member Assembly for reasons of strong parliamentary democracy is not an argument that would be popular with the public, or one that is helped by the overall quality of representation.

However what is undeniably true is that a 72-member Assembly would decimate the UUP and SDLP, possibly to the point of destruction. The fact that doing so would fill a mere £5 million of the black hole in public finances that the UUP estimate to be £1.7 billion and the SDLP £2 billion, is one that is never publicised and as a result the debate is hideously ill informed. It also does not throw a flattering light on the First Minister’s intentions.

The UUP and SDLP will not bring forward this argument, they couldn’t. Post ‘Expenses-gate’ and with Stephen Nolan constantly and deliberately feeding the at times unfair public perception of Stormont, such an argument would be madness.

However the saving grace for the future of choice between Assembly coalitions will oddly be Jim Allister. A large assembly means a large Unionist bench, and a large Unionist bench divided three ways is very much in the interests of Sinn Fein. They will not countenance a reduction in the number of MLAs, certainly not before they have had their turn in the First Minister’s chair.

The real target for cuts should not be political opposition in Parliament Buildings, it should be the bloated and decadent excesses on the rest of the Stormont Estate. Numbers of Civil Servants is excessive, and strangling the private sector. That however, is another sacred cow which no political party can afford to slay in public.

Filed under: Assembly reform, finances

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