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TAOISEACH Brian Cowen needs to mobilise public opinion if the exchequer deficit is to be tackled and the shoots of economic recovery are to yield jobs, stability and opportunity.
During the first six months of this year our national debt has increased by €9 billion and the amount of interest paid on it has increased by 20% between June 2009 and June 2010.
Interest now accounts for more than 15% of all tax revenue, up from 11.5% a year earlier. When the state had tax revenue of almost €46bn in 2006, the Government spent €44bn.
This year spending will be in the region of €60bn, but taxes could be as low as €31bn.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has indicated that serious expenditure cuts can be anticipated in the next budget if the exchequer deficit is to be tackled in a meaningful way — and it must. If the Government was not so snookered by a bunker mentality it would mobilise support through the public identifying spending cut suggestions rather than relying exclusively on Bórd Snip.
Would the Taoiseach’s much criticised capacity to communicate not be somewhat remediated if his own department’s website included a “have-your-say” email input facility for a finite annual 60-day period for the public to make practical suggestions that would save public money?
These could be coordinated by an identified champion and criticised by interested members of the public before being presented to ministers for consideration. The cost of gathering suggestions need not be too burdensome or the electronic administration too onerous in the context of there now being fewer human resources in the public service working for less money.
Practical suggestions, illustrated by specific application in given instances, such as saving electricity, saving money through recycling, less travel and greater use of conference calling and video conferencing technology, less spending on contractors and consultants, using more efficient double-sided printing, greater sharing of resources, tighter rules on sick leave, more critical evaluation of discretionary spending and more economical computer costs are examples of what might emerge. The compacting, postponing or elimination of certain academic programmes could also stretch educational resources and redefine priorities. A critical review of publicly funded advertising expenditure ought to enhance its relevance, focus, impact and practicality.
Apart from the practical benefits that might emerge from such an initiative, the Taoiseach would be seen to be engaging directly with the public on a matter that needs their widespread support and commitment, rather than merely consorting with the shakers and movers.
President Obama successfully mobilised public opinion in 2008 through the slogan ‘Yes, We Can’. This is an opportunity for Brian Cowen to emulate his approach through ‘Have your say’.
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