The two Brians lost their bottle with the budget

ANOTHER opportunity wasted — the elephant’s still sitting in the corner.

Tuesday’s supplementary or emergency budget, as it latterly became known, was always a budget that was going to satisfy very few people, if indeed it was destined to please anyone at all.

Given that it was a no-win situation, it’s really a pity that Brian Linehan and Brian Cowen did not have the bottle to deal with some of the major underlying issues impacting on the economy.

Instead, what they appear to have done is fiddle around the edges with some issues and not even bother to deal with others. It’s another golden opportunity wasted to take on the elephant which is still sitting smugly in the corner.

Whilst there were, undoubtedly, the rare few innocents who thought that somehow they might be saved the ravages of this budget, the vast bulk of folk expected a tough if not savage budget. Not only was it well signalled, but from the state of the economy — with almost e60 billion in expenditure and e34bn or so in revenue — it was needed.

It has been described as a “budget from hell”.

Hyperbole, maybe, but given the range and depth of ‘taxes’ imposed it was a reasonable description.

Whilst the budget did hit the spot on the revenue generation side it did not do so on the expenditure side.

As always the burden fell on the poor and the coping classes.

The banks, on the other hand, were given another leg up with a promise to put in place a National Asset Management Agency, who would in effect “buy” up e90bn of toxic assets from the banks.

The hope is that they would then start helping to get the economy moving by lending again. Perhaps they will, but our experience has been that despite the various leg ups they got from Government already they have chosen more often than not to bite “the proverbial hand that feeds them”.

Messers Linehan and Cowen might think they have fooled us by changing some of the terms and conditions of our politicians. The payments that have been taken or adjusted were both unsustainable and unjustified. Taking them was simply to say “look we are taking some of the pain too”.

Benchmarking politicians to a bloated and money-grabbing golden circle might have seemed to be the right thing to do for a politician whose head no longer fitted in the average size hat, but it never made sense or could be justified.

Benchmarking against other European countries makes more sense, but only if it’s honest and not loaded.

But perhaps our greatest concern should be the lack of any real or serious attack on the current expenditure side. We cannot under any circumstances tax our way back to good health.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said after taking e3.25bn in the budget, he will look for another e4.75bn for 2010 and e4.6bn in 2011.

He warned that to reach this figure he will look at taxing child benefit, introducing a property tax and cutting social welfare.

No mention of cutting expenditure, or eliminating the waste within a bloated public sector costing us e20bn or so per annum. No mention of eliminating some or any of the 601 or so quangos which have completed their remit, or which have passed their sell-by date — indeed they created another one — NAMA.

The two Brians are back talking to the social partners, but the latter represent nobody but themselves. Cutting expenditure to one is anathema, and supporting their banking paymasters is an imperative for the golden circle cheerleaders.

We, that is you and I, the ones who will suffer the most, have no say in this charade.


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