The Stormont Executive now appears to have been offered a stay of execution, in that, as it has already voted through its Budget, it can choose to defer the new cuts until the next financial year. This would however be at the cost of a nightmare Budget next year which would have to incorporate two batches of new Tory cutbacks. It must be remembered that the Budget announced last December already included massive cuts of £367million on top of 3% “efficiency savings” across all departments.
As the economy in Northern Ireland is particularly dependent on the public sector, which makes up 61% of GDP, this is a recipe for disaster. The latest statistics reveal that over the course of this recession the local economy has been hit harder than the UK average in most sectors, including manufacturing, construction and the service sectors. Public spending cuts will only pull the rug from under the fragile private sector where 84% of companies are small businesses employing fewer than 10 people, most heavily reliant on the spending power of public sector employees.
Furthermore, in real terms the North now has the second-highest regional unemployment rate in the UK. For years the politicians at Stormont have been wedded to a failed job-creation strategy of wining and dining multinational executives, promising millions in grants and subsidies. Now the Tories appear likely to back the local politicians aim to go further along this road with a cut in Corporation Tax, which would amount to hundreds of millions of pounds every year being awarded to big business. This disastrous neo-liberal approach will not result in any meaningful job creation. Multinational companies are shutting down operations globally due to the recession. Locally, this has led to the closure of factories such as Seagate, Visteon and Nortel. The Tories have stated that the equivalent cost of a cut in Corporation Tax must be found through even further cuts to public services!
At the same time, the politicians in Stormont are planning to enforce an annual average water charge of £400 on householders even though we already pay for water through the rates. The politicians in the Assembly though will be met with an almighty movement of resistance to water charges. The We Won’t Pay Campaign has already built significant support for non-payment of water charges. The cuts agenda of the Tories-Lib Dems and their fellow Green and Orange Tories in Stormont can also be defeated. A one-day public sector strike must be called by the trade unions to oppose all cuts and begin to build a movement involving workers and local communities to defend all public services. It is also crucial that the axe-wielding politicians are challenged politically. Next year’s local and Assembly elections provide an opportunity for working class and socialist candidates to stand against their Thatcherite policies and provide a much needed voice for the working class. We didn’t cause this recession, the super-rich did – make them pay!