Diane Dodds: More honesty is required in debate over public sector pay disputes - it's a myth that Stormont can wave a magic wand

A letter from DUP MLA Diane Dodds:
Health and education workers at a strike rally in Belfast earlier this year. The Treasury is failing to invest properly in NI public services, writes DUP MLA Diane DoddsHealth and education workers at a strike rally in Belfast earlier this year. The Treasury is failing to invest properly in NI public services, writes DUP MLA Diane Dodds
Health and education workers at a strike rally in Belfast earlier this year. The Treasury is failing to invest properly in NI public services, writes DUP MLA Diane Dodds

More honesty required in debate over public sector pay disputes

There is a myth peddled in some quarters that a restored Stormont executive could wave a magic wand and deliver pay rises for teachers and other public sector workers overnight.

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That argument has no foundation in political or economic reality.

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Pay accounts for over half of public spending in Northern Ireland. When the Treasury fails to invest properly in our public services - as has been the case for many years - frontline workers become collateral damage.

The Northern Ireland Fiscal Council believes we will be funded below need to the tune of £1.2bn by 2025.

Given that education makes up roughly 18% of the Stormont executive budget, this equates to well over £200m that could have gone toward teachers’ pay packets and school budgets.

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It is the government at Westminster that is withholding this investment, not the DUP or any political party in Northern Ireland.

The fact that Stormont is not functioning has absolutely no bearing on the size of our budget – better known as the block grant.

Don’t take my word for it. On 4 September, when presenting the Budget Bill, the Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker told MPs: ‘‘The sum available in this budget is the same as would have been provided were an executive in place.’’

There it is in black and white.

An executive or assembly are powerless to scale up baseline budgets for our public services. All the while the disparity with budgets in other parts of the UK is growing.

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The secretary of state’s current budget sees a 2.7% reduction in education spend in contrast to a 6.5% rise in the English schools budget.

This is then compounded by the fact that under the Barnett Formula any additional money that is spent in England for pay awards simply doesn’t go as far in Northern Ireland.

Let’s not forget that we spend more in the first place.

We also have the highest proportion of public sector workers anywhere in the British Isles – that includes 35% more nurses per head of population than England.

Yet our departments are expected to deliver the same quality of services – and the same benefits for frontline staff – with funding settlements that don’t take these factors into account.

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This means a 5% or 10% increase in the schools budget in Manchester or Leeds will not translate into a 5% or 10% uplift in Markethill or Londonderry.

Instead, the department must find the extra money from somewhere else, either by forcing principals to make even more savings or simply by choosing not to match pay deals in GB.

The latest rise in teachers' pay in England, which is also 6.5%, will be paid for by efficiencies within the departmental and schools budget.

In Northern Ireland that approach simply isn’t feasible.

Schools have already been pushed breaking point.

Demand in areas like Special Education Needs is soaring.

Meanwhile morale is plummeting.

The salary of a newly qualified teacher in Northern Ireland already lags behind GB and the squeeze will continue to store up problems in terms of recruitment and retention going forward.

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So what is the solution? If Stormont cannot enact the change that is desperately needed, who can?

The Democratic Unionist Party is committed to fairer pay awards for public sector workers. However we are also clear that the other parties need to be honest with teachers, police officers, nurses and vets who are increasingly opting to resort to industrial action to advance their concerns.

Only the government has the financial firepower to do what is required.

Firstly, baseline budgets must be capable of meeting assessed need in Northern Ireland. There is already a spade-ready solution to this in Wales, where a funding floor is in place to ensure spending does not and cannot fall below need.

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Secondly, additional Treasury support for pay awards cannot be one-off. It must be recurring and ringfenced to ensure commitments to staff can be honoured without becoming a millstone around the neck of departmental budgets.

Northern Ireland needs strong and lasting financial foundations, which ensure our public services can be reformed and transformed to the benefit of all and in a way that values and rewards our dedicated frontline staff.

Those who seek to exploit the genuine concerns of teachers and other public sector staff by promising that a return to Stormont will magically provide pay rises, need to step back and be honest in their public utterances.

DUP education spokesperson

One state

The root cause of the Palestine/Israel situation is obvious, but no-one in the American dominated West is allowed to name it.

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The solution is equally obvious, but no Western politician dare name it lest they appear critical or supportive of one side or the other. No Israeli or Palestinian politician dare name it lest they be politically crucified, or assassinated, by extremists in their own camp. The UN, as facilitator of the root cause of the situation, must now intervene to negotiate, or impose, a peaceful solution that does not perpetuate racial, religious, psychological or territorial division or dominance.

But do the dominant members of the UN, who can veto the obvious solution, want a resolution to the mutual benefit of Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others, allowing them to live in peace and harmony as one country, Palestine, without according the country any racial or religious identity or dominance?

Dennis Golden, Strabane