On Wednesday the British government will announce the outcome of its Comprehensive Spending Review and the extent of the cuts that it plans to impose.
Two weeks ago this blog met a senior delegation from the ICTU to talk about these threatened cuts and their likely impact on the north. Cuts to departmental budgets; cuts to public services; cuts to infrastructure investment; cuts that will cost jobs and hurt citizens.
It was a good meeting and most of those involved came down afterward to the front of Parliament Buildings and joined us for the launch of a west Belfast billboard Opposing the Cuts.
Sinn Féin and ICTU are agreed about the need to reject cuts and protect front line services and to build an alliance between political parties, the unions and the community and voluntary sector to oppose any cuts.
There is a lot of speculation about the cuts which might be introduced by the British government. It the speculation is correct they will have a huge and detrimental impact on workers, the disadvantaged and those in poverty.
The poorest will be hit 10 times harder than the wealthy.
It will be the public services they rely on, in health and education and social services and transport, that will be hit hardest.
Lone parents, the elderly and the sick will suffer the most.
In addition, the patterns of poverty which have remained unchanged over decades, will be reinforced. For as long as records exist, concentrations of inequality and deprivation have been ingrained in areas like west Belfast. This is systemic and structured discrimination.
One report published in recent days predicts that 20,000 public sector jobs could go and another 16,000 private sector jobs could follow.
So, political leaders and parties in the north have to stand up for peoples rights and in opposition to cuts. Sinn Féin is focussed and determined to do this.
When Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness met the British Chancellor, Martin McGuinness told him of Sinn Féin’s opposition to cuts and of the need to protect frontline services for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.
And on Thursday morning, before flying off to Kerry to speak at the selection convention for North Kerry and West Limerick, this blog along with all of the Sinn Féin Ministers and Mitchel McLauglhin released details of an economic package of measures – ‘There is a Better Way’ - that Sinn Féin believes can protect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
A significant difficulty for the Assembly and the Executive is that we have limited fiscal powers. This is unacceptable and unsustainable.
Partition too has had a detrimental economic impact. A radical reshaping of how the Government, and the private and the public sectors work is needed. An All-Ireland economic recovery plan is also required to deliver sustainable long lasting economic growth with greater economic equality.
Getting rid of the duplication of services created by partition makes economic sense and can deliver better public services for citizens. This is most obvious with health, but planning and infrastructure – energy co-operation – waste and tourism are only some of the areas that would benefit from an all-island approach.
The goal of the Assembly and Executive must be to deliver the necessary social and economic change that is required for our society. It is critical also that we continue to deliver frontline public services in health, education and transport; invest in capital infrastructure projects; ensure adequate housing for all and end poverty and disadvantage across urban areas and rural communities.
We need strategies to end inequality and deliver a more equal and prosperous society.
All of this is doable. There is an alternative way forward. A better way.
The imperative is to protect frontline services and in particular the most vulnerable in our society who rely on public services for survival.
A team of party activists, under the direction of our Finance spokesperson Mitchel McLaughlin, developed our proposals and passed them to economists and other experts as part of the preparation of Thursday’s document.
Sinn Féin’s proposals are about tackling waste, saving money, raising revenue, and investing this to create jobs, build infrastructure and protect public services. They will bring in almost £1.9 billion in combined savings and new revenue.
If the Assembly and Executive, the political parties and Trade Unions, and the community act together we can protect the public sector, maintain frontline services and grow our economy in a sustainable and effective manner.
The documents, ‘There is a Better Way’ is available on www.sinnfein.ie