The details of the report by the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes, better known by the rather witty moniker of An Bord Snip, are being absorbed by politicians and ordinary folk in Ireland. The figures are startling.
The group recommends 17,000 job cuts across the public sector, cuts in social welfare payments, the merger of state quangos and county councils, and the abolition of a whole government department. There can be no doubt that Ireland has had a tough time in the economic downturn with the collapse in the over-inflated housing market and the crunch in the financial sector.
The closure of schools and Garda stations will not be popular in rural areas and social welfare cuts are never going to be a vote winner. But despite these bitter pills and disagreements over exactly where the axe will fall, there is broad understanding for a re-engineering of public services in the republic.
The Irish seem to have stolen a lead on the British. Why can’t we have a Bord Snip?
Get together some leading economists, maybe one or two experienced senior civil servants (but just one or two) and let them have a look at the state of Britain’s finances.
In fact, why not appoint the excellent Jeff Randall to our British Bord Snip? He has done most of the work already. The Daily Telegraph columnist came up with some ideas following Alastair Darling’s utterly forgettable Budget in April.
Stop welfare payments to wealthy families, scale back Labour’s misguided 50% university attendance targets, cull wasteful government consultants in the NHS, dimantle the complex tax credits system set up by Gordon Brown which is fraught with mistakes and fraudulent payments, and freeze public sector pay. These are some of his eminently sensible suggestions for how we can re-engineer our economy.
And why not look to Canada? During the premiership of Jean Chrétien (pictured) a $42 billion deficit was eliminated, five consecutive budget surpluses were recorded, $36 billion in debt was paid down, and taxes were cut by $100 billion (cumulatively) over five years. A budget surplus! When was the last time we had one of those?
That example is going to be hard to beat, but we could at least give it a try. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be popular. But if the Canadians can do it, why can’t we?