More cash wasted
The revelations this week about the nature of many of the allowances that public sector workers are entitled to has created a sense of emotions ranging from anger to amusement across the country, unless of course you happen to be one of the lucky ones in receipt of some of these perks.
What has created even more anger and amusement is the fact that a Government, which was elected with a strong mandate to clear up an incredible mess and restore order to the public finances, is not prepared to do anything about those allowances.
I spoke to a group of private sector businesspeople in Donegal the following day — a group who have clearly found it incredibly tough to survive in the current environment and who are being destroyed by commercial rates and other state-induced costs. They were absolutely livid about what is going on in the country and the abject failure of Government to do the right thing. I can only agree with their sentiments. It is truly disheartening, particularly as middle-income workers in the main will get screwed again in the upcoming budget, just as they have done over the past four years, simply because some of the chicken-livered elements within the Government are not prepared to take on the all-powerful public sector unions. Sounds just like the last government, doesn’t it?
In my view some of the allowances are justified, such as those for teachers who gain qualifications over and above what is required to teach. Incentives to upskill and improve the quality of the education product are very worthwhile, but some of the allowances beggar belief. I heard a spokesperson for the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) justifying an allowance for getting Garda uniforms cleaned on the basis that they need to look clean and professional when on duty. If only private sector workers could get a similar allowance?
While the details of the allowances were being highlighted, the CSO released the latest Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS). It does not make for very pleasant reading. The number of people lucky enough to be at work in the economy fell by a further 33,400 or 1.8% in the year to the second quarter. This means that since the peak of the labour market in 2007, almost 362,000 jobs have been lost. The construction sector has shed 171,100 jobs, industry has shed 76,700 jobs and the wholesale and retail trade has lost 56,100 jobs. The unemployment rate stands at 14.8% and the long-term unemployment rate stands at a frighteningly high level of 8.8%, and this category now accounts for 59.9% of total unemployment.
All of these numbers are truly horrendous, and don’t look like getting better anytime soon. With the banking system totally dysfunctional and not lending to business, and with wage earners continuing to be squeezed at every turn, it is difficult to envisage any improvement in business investment spending and consumer spending anytime soon, and hence any net job creation is likely to remain elusive.
Yet while all of this is going on, the Government appears quite happy to preside over a regime where public sector allowances are costing over €1bn per year and local authorities are taking about €1.4bn off businesses in commercial rates in order to feed the extravagant system of local government that we have to endure in this country.
It is clear that 18 months in, the Government’s job strategy is not working and God only knows where the proceeds of the raiding of pension funds are going. They are certainly not improving employment prospects, which was the original intention.
It is all very depressing and the reality is that those who work hardest will continue to endure the bulk of the pain to pay for our incompetent political elites.