We have rightly been wary of reducing Corporation Tax to 12.5% in Northern Ireland under the relevant Act because the annual cost of doing so to the Northern Ireland budget may be around £200 million.
Yet, shockingly, a bungled Renewable Heat Initiative has already cost us almost that much. A simple failure to match the maximum payment system used in Great Britain has led to the ultimate omnishambles, with farmers being paid six-figure sums to heat empty sheds.
Ultimately, responsibility for this rests with Jonathan Bell, the then Minister, and the DUP. But it also rests with the Civil Servants, who administered the scheme and on whose advice he acted.
I know of a teacher who was forced into retirement because a door she held open bounced back, through no fault of her own, and hit a pupil who was not paying attention. A professional was lost to public service because so mad has child protection become that teachers are now afraid to enforce any discipline at all and cannot even hold a door open without risking a meritless, career-ending accusation. It’s a disgrace.
Yet civil servants who administered and bungled a scheme at a cost potentially of hundreds of millions will, at worst, be allowed to retire on full pension or, in an extreme case, be demoted one grade.
Post-Brexit, Northern Ireland is going to face real austerity (when the gap between what is raised in tax and spent on services and welfare actually decreases). It will need a public service which is up to the job. There are seven times as many bureaucrats working on Northern Ireland government as there are in the European Commission. Yet we allow them to burn millions of pounds of money we contribute in taxes and rates without hint of penalty.
It is time for performance pay. And it is time front-line public servants like teachers were protected, while bungling bureaucrats were dismissed.