Thursday, 29 July 2010

Will Bord na Cuts do for Bord na Gaidhealtachd?

I was involved in a Radio nan Gaidheal discussion about how deep the cuts that result from the Beveridge review of Scottish government spending could be.

Most of the major pillars of a decade of the Scottish parliament are up for grabs including free care for the (middle class) elderly, subsidised (for the middle class) subscription charges and free university fees.

Murdo Angus MacLeod, my erstwhile debating partner, suggested that local schemes like the Air Fare Discount that operates in the islands and the Road Equivalent Tariff, which makes ferry fares cheaper, could go.

That's good for scaring the audience awake but the cuts could be much worse than that, I argued.

A protracted £42bn spending squeeze over 16 years means massive job losses in the public sector which account for more than a third of all employment in in the Highlands and Islands.

The Beveridge report says that 60,000 jobs will go in the public sector over by 2014 and there's no reason to believe that the Highlands will be exempt.

Afterwards news dropped into my inbox from Ireland, where they have already established their own version of Beveridge to recommend cuts that politicians themselves are not brave enough to suggest.

There the chief executive of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Ireland's equivalent of Highlands and Island Enterprise, has warned that his organisation will no longer exist if the Bord na Snips, as they call it in Dublin, recommendations are carried through.

In Scotland the process of dismantling Highlands and Islands Enterprise is already well under way. The SNP government has taken against it for some reason and the organisation has already seen its budget cut by 43% since 2008. The stringency of the next few years could finish off the job.

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