Hamill’s Beat - A not-so-modest proposal to cut the dole queues

We’ve been talking about reforming public administration since the bible began. At least that’s how it feels. Darwinian evolution is faster than devolution at Stormont. (Remember the marathon debate about a sports stadium at the Maze? It filled more radio moan in programmes than Santa Claus has filled stockings, but the stadium still didn’t happen.)

Eventually, after years of talks about talks the DUPers and the Shinners finally agreed we should have 11 councils instead of the present 26. Needless to say it proved too difficult to implement. Well, a tricky issue arose over where the boundary between Lisburn and Belfast should be. So as with the sports stadium, it was easier to do nothing.

Then, in November we got another programme for government including a renewed promise to push on with council reform. Now the minister in charge, the SDLP’s Alex Attwood has thrown another spanner into the works. He wants 15 councils instead of 11. So, it’s back to the drawing board again. Understandably, the DUPers and the Shinners, like the rest of us, aren’t amused.

Stephen Nolan, who referees the big political debates on Radio Ulster, spent a whole programme badgering MLAs to tell him how many jobs would be lost under their various proposals. Naturally enough, they didn’t want to talk about job losses. They would have preferred to admit they were in favour of eating babies.

So here’s an idea? This could ease Mr Nolan’s worries, on our behalf, about job losses.

Instead of cutting councils, why not increase them? After all, it seems like no time at all since the DUP were in favour of a separate council for the Waterside. And didn’t we used to have 72 councils before the Macrory Report in 1970? So why not go back to having 72 or more? Just think! We could have an unlimited number of chief executives and support staff. Every hole-in-the-hedge could have its own local authority. And it would be great for the building trade as every new council would immediately need grand new offices.

It would also encourage the ‘big society’ and hardly any nationalists would have to be bossed by unionists and vice versa. If the councils were given back their powers to allocate public housing, provided they were all local enough, we shouldn’t get too many complaints about unionists not giving homes to nationalists and so on. It could be like the old days without the unpleasantness. Ah no, sorry, maybe that wouldn’t be such a good idea. It could cause job losses at the Housing Executive, so we’d better keep it as well.

Only in one respect would it be different from those by-gone days of yore. Before local government was last reformed, councillors weren’t paid for their troubles. That was hardly fair. They gave freely of their own time and endured criticism for their trouble. It’s far better now that councillors are all paid. It attracts a higher calibre of person. Doesn’t it? In any case, money saved by not having to pay redundancy payments should go some way to providing salaries for others. Just think of it as a Keynesian style unemployment relief scheme.

Isn’t this brilliant? I can’t wait to get on to, “the biggest show in the country” to tell Mr Nolan about all the jobs the scheme will create. He’ll be delighted and I’ll be the most popular boy in the ‘country’.

There’s no ‘them’ and ‘us’ now

Things are getting better. East Derry MP Gregory Campbell recently wrote these words in a local newspaper, “…we should be watchful for sectarian, petty and narrow-minded ideology. We should be prepared to expose it when it occurs”. Hmmm. That’s good, but who could he possibly be thinking of? Would you like a “house-keeping assistant”?

Do you fancy having a “house-keeping assistant”? Wouldn’t it be great to have someone to help you ‘do’ around the house? You know the sort of things they could do. They could help with, “polishing ‘objets d’art,’ changing bedlinen, re-lining cupboards and packing and unpacking guests’ suitcases; as well as care of jewellery, running baths, assisting with dressing if required and arranging the service of tea and breakfast trays”. That’s what the grand young duke of York, Prince Andrew says he wants. He lives with his ex wife in a mansion in Windsor. You’d need to pay your “house-keeping assistant” around £16,000 for a 40-hour week. Don’t worry; the taxpayer will pick up the tab. Well, fair’s fair. Do you need help with your ‘objets d’art’ or, “assistance with dressing”? Didn’t the Compton review of the health service envisage providing that sort of help for everyone?

Read more from Norman Hamill in the Journal every Tuesday