Just because something is unpalatable, doesn’t make it untrue

“Just because something is unpalatable, doesn’t make it untrue”. So said former world record triple jumper Jonathan Edwards about losing his faith, as it happens. However, the phrase has sprung to mind very often since I first read it, not least when looking at the local and global economy we live in.

As they got out the begging bowl to the UK Government in the Stormont Castle Agreement in mid-December, the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Ulster Unionists all put their name to a document which states:

  • “Structural level social divisions create inefficiency” (Paragraph 44)
  • “Additional costs have been driven by duplicating services” (Paragraph 44)
  • “Division tends to impact disproportionately on those who experience poverty” (Paragraph 45)
  • “Initiatives which would assist…[would include] acceleration of integrated and shared education” (Paragraph 47)
  • “[Shared education will] bring about future savings in the Budget” (Paragraph 48)

It’s magnificent stuff – go and read it yourself.

Of course, one obvious thing you would need to do to address “societal divisions” is ensure teachers in schools are themselves well acquainted with the diverse society in which we live. Another obvious thing to do would be to stop the inefficiency of small teacher training colleges which require subsidies (leaving quite aside the fact they train too many students anyway). No doubt, we would particularly want to do this because of the particular penalty paid for those divisions by those experiencing poverty, say, in places like West Belfast. Naturally, to maximise the investment in “integrated and shared education” you will want teachers who themselves were trained in integrated and shared settings. And it goes without saying that merging, say, teacher training into a single University campus would not just deliver all the above benefits, but also future savings to the budget.

Here’s an odd thing though – when the Employment Minister specifically set out a reform programme of teacher training to achieve all of these things, exactly as the other four parties wanted in an Agreement they all supported, the other four parties went out of their way within two months to block him doing so. Just because something’s (electorally) unpalatable…

I mean, anyone would think those four parties aren’t serious about tackling the costs of division and the inevitable inefficiencies and poverty that goes with them! But that couldn’t be, could it…?

 

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BBC must remember “public service” ethos

Further to yesterday’s blog, I did subsequently appear on the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster to challenge why his TV show had on as a “commentator” somebody who was thoroughly uninformed and just outright abusive. The defence was that he was taking positions a lot of the public take – but that is fundamentally not the purpose of a commentator.

If there are views held by the public which are uninformed, it is the role of the public service broadcaster to challenge them through people who are informed, not to pay people with our licence fees to regurgitate them in a particularly insulting manner.

The BBC seems to have forgotten that “impartiality” does not mean letting a deliberately insulting view on air and then trying to counter it with someone from the opposite extreme. It requires informed debate.

There would have been no difficulty if this “commentator” had competed equally with others for his platform. He is entitled to his views and to express them freely. In fact, however, he was elevated beyond others and deliberately given a much greater say than anyone else – despite the fact he had not a single qualification for that say (having no demonstrable expertise in the subject, no evidence of detailed practical understanding of the implications of the reforms, and no electoral mandate).

It does so happen that I spent many years, mostly voluntarily but sometimes with a prominent think tank, researching welfare issues. However, I can think of countless articulate people – at our Universities, at NICVA, in the Law Centre, in independent consultancies – who would have provided an informed view. To be clear, this may very well have differed from my view, but it would have constituted legitimate opinion rather than gratuitous insult. In short, they would have provided a public service.

The BBC also has a role not to encourage stigmatisation. It is correct that the reprehensible and groundless views expressed were challenged on air, and that other people with informed views were invited to speak. However, the real issue is why someone of such resounding idiocy was given preferential billing even to those other people. He was in fact invited on deliberately to be provocatively ignorant. It is simply not the BBC’s business to do that, particularly when it risks increasing the stigma felt by people who are genuinely vulnerable.

As it happens, I have almost never come across someone who fundamentally did not want to work (yes of course there are those who do not fancy discipline, or getting up for 9am or whatever, but that is not quite the same thing). Yet I have come across hundreds, maybe thousands, whose lives could be transformed even by a relatively minor, targeted intervention in mental health. This is an informed opinion based on lengthy research backed up by many others, and it deserved an airing much more than the ignorant ranting of an egomaniac.

The BBC must stop sacrificing the “informed” for the sake of the apparently “impartial” in the quest for ratings. If that must be done, leave it to commercial broadcasters. The BBC has a public service duty to inform and educate – and therefore not to elevate the deliberately ignorant and insulting. There is no excuse for a single one of its programmes not to pay heed to that at all times.

Welfare Reform debate misses point

I was called in to appear on the BBC Nolan TV show last week only for the debate to degenerate into a disgusting and abusive rant about people with genuine mental health problems from the supposed “commentator”. Unfortunately treating such debates as despicable entertainment rather than informed debate is one of many things which contributes to our democratic deficit.

What I would have said, as someone with some real expertise on the subject, is that Northern Ireland may actually have a pretty good deal on welfare reform now. However, this depends on how the “£565 million” for “mitigation” is spent.

If it is spent on a scatter-gun basis with no proper targeting of resources or medium-term plan, the outcome will be disastrous. It will mean we get the worst not of all worlds, but of most – a system based on assumptions which don’t apply here putting pressure on housing which is inadequate and on people to get jobs which can’t exist. We should be very, very clear about that.

On the other hand, we now have six years and £565 million to do something to tackle poverty for real. Given the right policies, that will be enough to make a good start.

Northern Ireland has three areas of particular difference from Great Britain which need particular attention – childcare, housing and jobs.

First, the Welfare Reform Bill assumes more wide-ranging state-sponsored childcare than we have here. It is no good pushing people into work if they literally cannot afford to do it! We need specific mitigation for parents, at least those on low income.

Second, the “Bedroom Tax” assumes that it is relatively easy to move social house. The legacy of conflict, sectarian segregation and other issues mean that is simply untrue in Northern Ireland. It is important that the derogation on this remains in place until the policy is abolished by the UK Government (which it will be, as it is unworkable even in Great Britain).

Third, we need to recognise that the only way to create jobs is through the private sector. We have not yet got around to understanding this. Public money is not going to continue to create “government posts” the way it did 10-20 years ago because there simply isn’t as much of it and we are not the special case we pretend we are anyway. The only way to create real work is through innovation and export. We must invest in the skills and training which will achieve this, so that at the end of the six-year period the jobs exist, well matched, for people to move into.

The fundamental problem with the debate is that it allows mouthpieces from both “Left” and “Right” completely to misrepresent what the Welfare system is. It is NOT a means of compensating people for being poor; it is a means of giving them a helping hand up from poverty. That is what it was designed to achieve. It is time we shifted the debate to recognise that basic point.

A guid naem is suiner tint nor wun

Gan on frae ma screed seiven dey syne, a wheen fowk his cam bak speiran at me, whit wad we fash oursels wi the Ulster Scots for ava. Hit is a guid quaisten.

A canna gie a repoen tae it, an no first shawan at the linguistic oncum on Ulster Scots haes nocht a-dae wi the linguistic oncum o the Airis leid. The baith o thaim is claucht thegaither frae the 1998 Greeance, at caad for lyk respect for Ulster Scots an the Airis leid. This is nae fash tae me, but hit isna meanan the baith bes needan the ae thing.

The oncum o Ulster Scots (tak tent: “the variant of the Scots language spoken in parts of Northern Ireland and County Donegal“) maun be sindert frae the oncum o the Airis leid for thrie heid reasons:
– Scots is a mukkil nearer the admeinistrative leid (Inglis);
– thaim as taaks (Ulster) Scots deyandeilie disna forordinar pit it at the founds o thair national identitie; an
– Scots haes nae tradeition, athin the 400 year bygaun, o uiss in the admeinistration.
Thir thrie pynts is claucht tae ilkaither.

First aff, thaim as taaks Ulster Scots forordinar haes nae fash wi the readin in Staundart Inglis. Thon isna a-dae wi its staundin as “leid” or “dialect”, it is juist a fact o lief for thaim as bieds wi the Ulster Scots in deilie uiss.

Forby that, naebodie pits Scots alane at the founds o thair national identitie. Hit is a pairt o our linguistic identitie – wirds the lyk o “wee” or “anent” kythes ein in Staundart Inglis screeds in Scotlan an, whiels, on this sied o the Sheuch anaa – but juist a aefauld pairt o monie. Hit isna in uiss the wey the Airis is as a pairt o a oweraa national identitie, naither haes oniebodie as taaks it forordinar a notion o makkan it ane.

Linguists taaks o “Dachsprache“; “ruif leid”. Fowk as taaks ae leid forordinar deyandeilie whiels uises anither for admeinistration – for ensaumpil, fowk in Luxembourg taaks Luxembourgish forordinar but maks uiss o the Frens, an wrytan admeinistrative. The ae thing gaes on in Scots-taakan airts – fowk taaks Scots unformal an ocht near Staundart Inglis formal, an sae thay wryts Staundart Inglis forordinar. Sae the ar nae tradeition o, an nae caa for, the uiss o Scots in the admeinistration – fowk is blythe aneuch makkan uiss o Staundart Inglis, the warlds foermaist langage in uiss, for offeicial ettils.

The ar nae pynt fowk giean out services naebodie bes wantan, an nae caa ava for the govrenment tae be makkan uiss o our siller, an daean it. Scots is a langage fowk maks uiss o, an taakan about a wheen things. The ar a caa frae thaim as taaks it anaa for a bit creative wrytin in it – bairns stories an the lyk (an mebbes a orra blog screed this lyk o this ane!)

“Lyk respect” isna meanan “lyk oncum”, for Ulster Scots an Airis isna lyk things. Ane is gey near the big langage (Inglis), an haes its docht in fowks wey o taakin in the kintra an wi the creative wrytin (pairteicular poems); the tither is gey differan frae the Inglis, an haes its docht in the braidcastin an the studdie o the Celtic leids.

Fact, the siccarmaist wey o tynan respect for the Ulster Scots is makkan uiss o it for things naebodie bes wantan, an makkan uiss o thair siller for it! It’s a waur thing yet, haean fowk wi nae ken o the langage juist makkan it up for tae dae things, as disna (yet) ansuer tae it.

Thaim as kens the leid an taks tent tae it wad ken the auld Scots proverb: “A guid naem is suiner tint nor wun”!

The *actively* sectarian nature of 80% of the NI Executive

The debate about teacher training places really is an incredibly simple one.

How many teachers do we need to train in Northern Ireland? Taking account demographics, retirement rates, later pension age and so on, certainly not more than 400.

The question then becomes, simply, how is this done most efficiently? By training them, as they do in similar locations like Glasgow and Dublin, within existing local Universities.

The Minister should now proceed to do that, with full Executive support.

That is, of course, where it all goes wrong. As a country recovering from decades, nay centuries, of sectarian conflict, for some reason 85% of those we elect (and thus 80% of our devolved government) think it is a brilliant idea to continue to educate our children along those same sectarian lines. In order to do this, it is apparently also a brilliant idea to train those who educate them along those same sectarian lines.

For decades, we have had money from elsewhere pumped into ‘peace’ funds on the assumption that Northern Ireland would obviously now proceed to break down the sectarian barriers which divided it and left it conflicted for so long. Instead, 80% of those we elect think it is a brilliant idea deliberately to maintain those barriers, from the age of four, and to secure them in place in terms of those teaching our children until about age 23. Far from bringing down the barriers, the Executive and 85% of the Assembly want to copperfasten them in place.

Which brings us to the next obvious question: why?

Just weeks after they went to the UK Government with the mother of all begging bowls pleading “special circumstances” because of the divided nature of our society, 80% of our Executive parties now thing we should bolt down those “special circumstances” and ensure the divisions remain in place for another generation. Apparently, this will bring us all to peace and the promised land.

Our sectarian politicians stamp their feet and rant and rave when they are not given money that they “need”. Yet when they are given the chance to prove they could spend money efficiently, they opt not just to spend it inefficiently, but to do so while maintaining in place the very conditions which led to conflict – actively and deliberately.

We would prefer to train 180 teachers we will never need (who will never ever be able to get a job in their chosen vocation here) in conditions deliberately segregated along sectarian lines than train 250 engineers in an integrated setting to provide skills which will encourage jobs and wealth for the same price.

That’s the bitter, inefficient and actively sectarian Executive 85% of you elected, folks. Today, they will no doubt prove it…

NI’s public sector is too big, and pay gap is too large

That Northern Ireland’s public sector is too big is taken as read by most people. Lots of things which are “taken as read” are not actually true. However, this one is.

I have a friend who did not go into the public sector. Instead, he was one of four people who set up a haulage firm which now employs almost 200 people – 50 people each – in addition to other employed indirectly because of its existence.

Had he gone into the public sector, it is possible that he would have earned well; conceivably, in cash terms, maybe even better than he has. Yet he would not have added those jobs. He would have been fine, but tens more would have had to find employment elsewhere – and, quite possibly, they would have struggled.

This letter denying the public sector is too large completely misses the point. It claims that the public sector is large because, basically, we are poorer; actually, we are poorer because too few of us create wealth, which can only be done in the private sector. It also claims that public sector pay cannot be compared to private sector pay because of the “make-up” of each sector. Well, precisely – if the public sector wasn’t the obvious place to go for a decent living here, more people would try their luck in the private sector. That is how a market economy works!

There is not a single jurisdiction in the world which relies as much on the public sector as Northern Ireland, and there is a reason for that. You cannot go on simply adding jobs out of thin air. Eventually you have to create wealth – and you do that through private-sector companies innovating and exporting, not through bureaucrats telling you they can’t send you the logo you need to put on your event form because that’s someone else’s job and they’re off today.

Even more important than this, of course, is the daft equation between “public sector jobs” on one hand and “public services” on the other. The example in the previous paragraph is actually from real life. There would be literally no disadvantage to public services if the person sending it simply were not employed. There would be no disadvantage either if all the NI Executive Departments’ finance functions were merged into one unit; no disadvantage if each Department had one press officer (instead of eleven or so earning more on average than the average journalist); no disadvantage if OFMDFM had 300 fewer staff as it never does achieve anything anyway; as well as no disadvantage of course if we had a total of ten Special Advisers (not 18), nine Permanent Secretaries (not 14), and 90 MLAs (not 108). Oh, and, by the way, we could probably manage with around half the 117 “quangos” we currently have for a population of under 2 million; not to mention one Teacher Training College merged into a University training 400 students per year rather than two independent training 580 each at a premium…

During the “Troubles”, it literally became the purpose of the public sector in Northern Ireland to provide employment, not just deliver public services. As we approach two decades of “peace”, however, we no longer get that by-ball. Like most normal societies, it is now for the public sector to deliver public services efficiently within budget we are as rate- and taxpayers prepared to pay; and for the rest of us to create jobs and employment through entrepreneurship and investment.

Welcome the Real World, kids.

New expressway can transform Larne

Construction of the A8 Ballynure Bypass was completed yesterday as part of the overall new expressway linking Newtownabbey (and northern Greater Belfast) to the outskirts of Larne.

Ballynure Bypass in November [Credit: Noel O'Rawe]

Ballynure Bypass in November [Credit: Noel O’Rawe]

Coming in at over £100 million, there has rightly been some debate about whether this particular road project offers real value for money (rightly, in the sense that good, open debate is healthy).

There is the argument, which in fact I personally would endorse in theory, that there were other more deserving projects – the A6 at Moneynick (between Randalstown and Toome) being the most obvious. However, what happened simply was that during the Celtic Tiger the Irish Government suggested it would fund half (not least in its own interests, as a main freight link from Dublin to Scotland) and thus preparation work was prioritised on that assumption. The money will never be forthcoming now, of course, but the NI Executive decided to proceed anyway given that the project was ready to go sooner than others, having been so prioritised. Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.

Then there is the argument that £100 million should not be spent on such projects at all, most commonly presented as “£100 million to save just five minutes’ journey time”. Let us look at that:
– the time alone is on average in good traffic five minutes; that is, five minutes each way; and that may mount up over a period of time (a commuter from Mallusk to Larne over one year thus saves around 32 hours – two full waking days – a year).
– that time also assumes good traffic; but a new dual carriageway also assists (and accounts for a much vaster time saving) in the case of delays and accidents, both in that they become rarer (dual carriageways with barriers are safer roads) and in that minor accidents or breakdowns do not block the entire carriageway.
– the issue is not just “time”, but also stress; studies have shown definitively that driving on dual carriageways and particularly expressways (we’ll come to that) consumes less concentration, and thus less mental energy (and thus cause less stress, not least to freight drivers).

In much of Continental Europe, "expressways" or "semi-motorways" have their own specific sign

In much of Continental Europe, “expressways” or “semi-motorways” have their own specific sign

Expressways (officially known as “Category 6″ or “Category 7″ dual carriageways), sometimes known as “semi-motorways” in the UK (Continental travellers may be familiar with “voie express” as opposed to “autoroute” in France or “autovia” as opposed to “autopista” in Spain), bring all the benefits of the dual carriageways but make them more pronounced. They allow entrance and exit only to the left (known as “limited access”) with junctions which then all take the form of overpasses or underpasses (known as “grade-separated junctions”), thus prioritising forward movement at all times and not allowing any traffic to cross the carriageway. This makes them hugely safer (as there can be no head-on collisions of any time) and a lot easier to navigate (as it is simply a matter of knowing which junction to leave at).

Expressways have the arguable further benefit of being a cheaper option than motorways because they do not automatically prohibit low-power vehicles and thus do not need a specific alternative route; therefore, they can largely be built “online” (i.e. by dualling an existing road and reconstructing its junctions) rather than as an entirely new road. Category 6 expressways do not have an emergency lane (“hard shoulder”) either. This does, however, bring with it the limitation that not all traffic is kept separate from high-speed vehicles – tractors and even bicycles may be left to compete for space on the same carriageway as cars at 70mph passing lorries at 50mph. Nevertheless, on a relatively low-volume route (as this is, with around 17,000 vehicles per day, although that number will now rise), this can be a reasonable compromise (and restrictions on type of traffic may be placed on expressways, as they are on the A12 Westlink in Belfast; they are just not automatic as they are with motorways).

One further specific benefit of expressways is that, because junctions are dotted out as with motorways, they tend not to suffer “planning creep” as they are not easily accessible. They are designed specifically to move traffic from one large location to another (rather than allowing them access at every hole in the hedge). This is distinct even from non-expressway dual carriageways, which by nature allow new developments and commercial centres to spring up at all points alongside them, soon rendering them hopeless for long-distance traffic while also leading to unsustainable communities of detached shops and houses with no real centre or hub.

Therefore, I would argue strongly that the A8 expressway will bring very significant benefits to the Larne area and the Belfast-Larne corridor and few disadvantages. It will protect the countryside between Newtownabbey and Larne from encroachment while making Larne Town itself (and its hinterland):
– more viable as a commuter town, thus increasing its potential as a residential option;
– more easily accessible (not just in terms of speed, note above); and
– more attractive for freight, ultimately enhancing trade from across the island of Ireland with Scotland in particular.

I’d say that’s £100 million (only £25 million a year for each year of construction on average) very well spent.

Scunnert wi seean our cess gien thaim as disna ken the Haemlie Tongue

A taen a mukkil scunner, an seean the new strategie for the oncum o the Ulster-Scots Langage, Heirship an Cultur ower the twintie year cumman. It wis a ill aneuch thing at the strategie taen nae tent o the reed, frae me an thaim A ken, at “langage” disna belang wi “heirship an cultur”; a mukkil waur wis whit kythed alang wi the Inglis version! For whit kythed wisna the Haemlie Tongue me an monie ithers kens weel, but a maed-up mixter-maxter o haivers. A wad howpit siclyk wis lang bygaun.

The heidin alane gies you aneuch awaur o whitna haivers hit aa bes. Whit wad a “roadin” be? How wad “fur” an “tae” cum thegither as the ae wird? Whit is the umlaut ower “bring” for? Whan did “graith” cum a verb? Hou wad “bring forrits” an “graith” gae foernent the Inglis “enhance” an “develop“, an thaim richtlie meanan “bring forwards” an “equipment” (a noun, no a verb)? “Heirskip” is nae forordinar spellin, an ither sic sounds written “sh”, no “sk”. The waurst is the haivers o pittan “an” atween the first twa an last twa deigits o the year – hit is a nummer (2015, 2035), no a wird, sae aa leids wi alphabets juist haes the feigurs written nae maiter whit wey ye speaks thaim!

Ein in the Depairtments ain heidin, hou is “cultur” nou “fowkgates”, an whaur did sicna wird cum frae? “Aisedom” disna gie a richt translate o “leisure” forby, an whit the deil is “trokin”? A “exchange” in General Scots coud be a “niffer” (frae “neive”), gin ye be for makkan wirds o braider meanin, but the ar nocht wrang wi “exchynge” (fact, “trokin” wad be a gey auld-farrant wird for the graith a bodie daes the exchynge wi, no the exchynge itssel). The ar a wheen Scots an Ulster dictionars; but the ar nae dictionar, haes aa sic wirds wi aa sic meanins!

The skaithsom an kenspekkil thing is, at whit is written in “Ulster Scots” in sic screeds is juist maed-up haivers an aabodie kens it. An wrytan formal, a bittie licence bes ay nott; but that isna the ae thing as juist makkan wirds an meanins up! Forby aa that, whit kythes in the screed isna a richt translate o whit kythes in the Inglis, an isna near oniebodies actual wey a taakin (or wrytan, an makkan poems an siclyk). Deed, A am shawan, an wrytan this screed, at ye can wryt the Haemlie Tongue formal an no juist mak it up! Aabodie in Scotlan an Ulster will ken, at whit A am wrytan is relate the tradeitional tongue o Burns an Orr, but whit kythes in the strategie is juist haivers at naebodie can unnerstaund (lyklie ein thaim as maed it!).

The ar nae dout ava, the bodie at maed thon screed wisna acquent wi the linguistics, an haes a pukkil notion o whit fowk, as maks uiss o the tongue deyandeilie, is thinkan anent its richt oncum thenou.

It is a orra thing, at the Depairtment itssel lat sicna translate gae furth, an it siccar no in oniething relate Ulster Scots (as hit bes taakit in the kintra thenou or as hit wis written in Ulster frae makkars the lyk o Orr or Thomson 200 year syne). We aa peyed for siclyk wi our cess, an that is an ill thing anaa.

Thon siller is haean an inpit, no tae the oncum o the Haemlie Tongue, but tae its deith. The ar nae howp for bringan on the Tongue ava, an sic haivers put furth unner the heidin “Ulster Scots”. A wad maun speir at thaim, wad that be the pynt? An we war for bringan the Haemlie Tongue foerairts, we wad gie it thaim as kens it, an as knaws a bittie anent the linguistic oncum. This screed alane shaws ye can mak it formal an yet hae fowk ken it weel as a Tongue relate a leiterar tradeition (the “Rhymean Wabsters” an ithers) an fowks wey o taakin ein thenou. The ar nae caa for makkan it aa up. But A amna siccar, we ar richtlie for bringan it on; mebbes gin “20an35″ hit will be gaun awa an we can aa hain our siller for ither things?

Corporation Tax Bill designed for Scotland, not Northern Ireland

My company Ultonia Communications’ analysis of the Corporation Tax Bill appears here

The Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill was published last week, outlining the transfer of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the setting of a Northern Ireland Rate of profits tax in some circumstances.

For such a vast and important change, it has received scant media attention. Being a serious economic and political matter, there has been almost no independent commentary on the issue at all and, insofar as there has, it has consisted of the standard Unions versus Businesses debate.

There are a number of essential points which should by now have been clarified:

  • the Bill does not set the Northern Ireland Rate of Corporation Tax at 12.5% (or anything else), it merely transfers the power to do so to the Northern Ireland Assembly (which could even set it at nil, if it wished);
  • the Bill is absolutely not about “tax cuts for big business” (its predominant focus is SMEs); and
  • any reduced rate would apply only to profits attributable to people employed and work carried out in Northern Ireland.

However, the biggest failing in the analysis so far has been on the overall politics of the Bill – and not just as it applies to Northern Ireland. Indeed, I would go so far as to say the Bill is clearly written for Scotland, not Northern Ireland.

The most obvious hint of this is in the list of “excluded industries” (also referred to as “non-qualifying”), i.e. the industries which would not qualify to pay the (presumably reduced) Northern Ireland rate. The list is fairly long but can be summarised broadly as just two – finance and oil/gas. These just happen to be Scotland’s two biggest industries.

The intention is clear. The first objective is to limit the prospect of Scotland wanting the same powers as Northern Ireland by ensuring Northern Ireland does not get an advantage in Scotland’s key industries. The second is to ensure that, if the politics force the same arrangement to be made for Scotland, finance and oil revenues to the UK Treasury nevertheless remain secure.

Implicit to the Bill, therefore, is that it accepts the risk that Scotland may want and get the same powers soon. This risk must also be applied to the economic models of the benefit of reducing the Northern Ireland Rate of Profits Tax within the terms of the Bill. This essential point must not be missed, as discussion of the Bill is close to pointless without it.

Greens’ Basic Income is actually a good idea

I have written many times before that a universal Living Wage is a really bad idea, primarily because it would cause inflation which would render it pointless (that is not to say that applying it in specific areas – for example requiring companies qualifying for lower Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland to pay it – is not worth considering).

The Greens in England and Wales have instead put forward the idea of a “Basic Income”. Their Leader, Natalie Bennett, was somewhat embarrassed on the subject when she was unable to come up with anything approaching the means to pay for it on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, but that does not make it a bad idea. In fact, a Basic Income is a much better idea than a Living Wage (no doubt the Greens would support both, but let’s just leave it as an “either/or” for now).

My old friend Sam Bowman explains how it could work. Essentially, it is a “negative income tax”, ensuring that everyone earns the Basic Income but also that anyone who earns above it receives more income for so doing. It would also render out-of-work benefits and income support unnecessary, as the Basic Income would already cover them. As Sam says, the exact rate at which you would set it and the type of additional welfare for people with disabilities or long-term conditions would have to be considered. However, fundamentally the idea is sound – and actually affordable. Not for the first time, the Greens have a good idea in theory that they struggle with in practice – but there is time yet before 7 May!

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