Harder decisions to be made in the regional governments

By and large the UK regional governments have historically ploughed their own furrow largely in isolation from what’s been going on at the national level. Essentially they’ve aimed to make vote winning decisions as they’ve went along but that’s about to change in what looks like being quite a dramatic way.

Thus we have the national government saying that they will ring-fence health and, largely, education spending. A fine aim for sure, but both of those budgets are devolved to the regional governments which causes problems because those governments are financed by what’s called the block grant – essentially a big cheque to cover all of their bills.

The effect of this is that those block grants are what will be reduced (by anything from 25% to 40%) and it will be up to the regional governments to distribute those reductions amongst the areas within their responsibility. Taking Northern Ireland as an example we find that health and education take up around 60% of the total budget so if they are ringfenced by the regional government and the cut were 40% then all other departments would need to be closed down which is hardly a runner. Even at 25% that would mean a 60% cut in the other departments. Thus ringfencing health and education is hardly going to be possible, no matter how desirable it might be in principle.

I think it’s safe to say that we can expect some extremely difficult decisions from the regional governments in the coming months.

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