Waiting for FTP to come to an end

GIVEN some of the comments made during the debate which led to overwhelming support for the financial transformation programme, it is hard to tell whether States members really have embraced the need for austerity.

GIVEN some of the comments made during the debate which led to overwhelming support for the financial transformation programme, it is hard to tell whether States members really have embraced the need for austerity.

Take this from the Education minister: ‘We owe nothing less to our children than schools that rival the best in the world. We can do it and we will do it. How is for another day.’

Add to that his colleagues’ disagreement with the list of FTP savings they put forward and one of their number threatening resignation if education is in any way compromised.

These are heartfelt and principled statements and cannot be faulted on those grounds. But do they make any sense in the context of the new economic reality?

As a matter of policy, government has swung the tax burden onto individuals and away from businesses. So for the bulk of the island’s revenue to increase, people’s incomes have to rise and that simply is not happening – and there is no indication of when that might change.

Government has yet to demonstrate it has shed the fat accumulated in the easy years of effortless surpluses and, because it is still spending more than it receives, hasn’t learnt to live within its means.

Schools that rival the best in the world? If the minister had added, ‘with the resources at our disposal’, no one could have faulted him.

As it is, since the waste and lack of focus revealed by the Mulkerrin report has still to be tackled, it merely makes the department look disconnected from reality.

This concern that the mindset of government isn’t focused on the reality of FTP was also highlighted by Education.

Moral, practical and legal reasons existed why it could not slash and burn its budget. Well, it hasn’t been asked to act that way but it is clear that the approach is to justify why something cannot be done rather than to identify ways in which it can.

Despite the support for FTP, there is little doubting that deputies and officials see this process as a one-off to be endured rather than true transformation.