Yesterday the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg was in Northern Ireland.
He was meeting with the First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle. The major concern for Northern Irish Ministers was the proposed spending cuts that are to come in across the UK to deal with the budget deficit. Nick Clegg stated the long-term aims of the Government for a prosperous Northern Ireland were:
“Over time we clearly need to try and create a NI economy which is more diverse in which you have more people employed in the private sector.
“That’s not something you can just wave a magic wand and do overnight.
“We’re very aware of that and we’re also aware that these are exactly the kind of things we need to consider when we make these decisions about how to deal with the deficit.”
Earlier Peter Robinson had joined calls with his fellow First Minister’s Alex Salmond in Scotland and Carwyn Jones in Wales against public sector spending cuts. What makes Robinson’s signing of this join declaration slightly weird is that he had earlier suggested some sweeping changes, which would result in public sector savings himself.
In his proposals he is planning to cut the number of departments at Stormont from 12 to 8, stating that “12 departments for a population of 1.7 million is far too much.” He also proposed cutting the number of MLAs from 128 to 75. This reflects not only the reduction of constituencies under the Governments voting reform legislation from 18 to 15 but also the number of MLAs per seat from 6 to 5.
All of these proposals from Robinson actually show the sort of prudence that the Liberal Democrats were campaigning for during the general election. It is not the key services that need to be, nor should be, cut but looking at the edges, looking at the waste, looking at the over governance and manning that our monolithic civil service and public sector have become.
One question I would repeat to Alex Salmond and add in Carwyn Jones is are you absolutely sure there is no waste in the public sector under your budgets? Is it not possible that some pruning would not lead to leaner, more fit-for-purpose public sector?
Before anybody says that all cuts are wrong, they should look like the Ministers in Westminster are doing at what is absolutely necessary and what is just a vanity.