Saturday, 26 December 2009

New Year Resolutions?

Slí Eile: Remember the Renewed Programme for Government (early October)? In the meantime we have had Budget 2010. Following earlier blogs on the Renewed Programme for Government further observations are in order:

'Subject to European Stimulus Funding, we will make broadband available to every house in the country by 2012.'
What’s this? Did I read the dreaded S word here?
Banking Reform (p13 in ms Word version) contains some welcome, but not new, proposals for putting a new code of corporate governance on a legislative footing and extending this to all publicly quoted companies and state-sponsored bodies. Pending legislation, ‘all credit institutions participating in NAMA or availing of a Government Guarantee will be expected to comply fully with the key principles of the ‘Combined Code’ (p14). We look forward to seeing the timely and practical application of all this including early legislation. The issue of personal indebtedness and family home protection features (p15). This has been a relatively neglected area and one where an alarming landmine awaits. The extent to which Governments, in the future, will provide for protection here will be vital to the project of economy recovery with fairness.

A More Caring and Just Society (p16) fails to convince or excite. It is long on aspiration and pious sentiment, short on timescales, costings and hard choices. ‘A universal health service’ is nowhere near completion if Government continues to pursue the two-tier system as it is relying on a mix of private tax breaks, private insurance and seriously under-provided services to children and families in need. Continuing failure to provide for carers, to implement the strategy on mental health – to take two examples – speaks volumes about a society that can find the money to recapitalise a largely unaccountable banking system but not for social projects.

‘We will develop and put in place a regulatory framework for the provision of after-school services.’ (p20)
Why not just inject €2bn to provide for a full-day, full-year provision for all children aged 3?
Justice and Crime

Two standalone shockers:
‘We will develop a White Paper on Crime’ (is that after the Green Paper and before the Implementation Group Report?)
‘We will progress our new Prison Building Programme’ (smells like a fiscal stimulus package?)
There is a welcome commitment to creating an official House Price Index based on property sale price data to be placed in the public domain (p29)
See previous blog on ‘fee fees

Democracy and public services
There are worthwhile ideas and commitments in this section and these have received relatively little media attention since the Programme was agreed. The idea of an electoral commission is not new. Neither is reform of the Seanad. When it comes to political institutional reform there is a clear historical track record of inaction and delay – which points to the difficulty of reforming anything in which there is a widespread political party comfort with the status quo. On local government reform the only thing on offer if a White Paper followed by ‘consultation’. In other words no change for a long time and certainly not in the remaining life of this Government
The mention of legislation to create a more open and transparent system of appointments to public bodies is welcome. There is an urgent need for an independent system of public appointments to the non-executive boards of public bodies.

In all, the Programme commits to three White Papers (on crime, local government reform and defence). More next time - public sector reform.

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