FG under fire over claim that €3bn cuts will not hit services
FINE Gael came under fire last night for its "incredible" claim that frontline services would not be affected by cutting almost €3bn from the public sector budget.
The party is targeting payroll reduction measures worth €900m, cuts in overtime and expenses worth €480m, a €100m cut to the CIE transport budget and €377m of savings from a spending review.
And the big-ticket item is achieving 18,000 voluntary redundancies in the public service to save €1bn.
Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan said yesterday that much of the savings could be located by cutting down on the enormous amount of waste and bad practice that had crept in over the years.
"What we're saying is, like they did in Canada and Sweden, take the waste out, don't cut public servants' pay but cut the numbers. Then you maintain frontline services," he said.
Fine Gael is portraying itself as a party that will tax less and cut more than Fianna Fail or Labour. It is going to impose €6.4bn in spending cuts and €2.4bn in taxation increases to reduce the €19bn budget deficit over the next three years.
Fianna Fail's Brian Lenihan claimed Fine Gael's proposals were "incredible", "unrealistic" and "unattainable". The Finance Minister said the redundancies in the public sector would affect frontline services.
"For example, doctors' secretaries in hospitals are not back-office staff. They are vital assistants to doctors in arranging appointments and ensuring patients are looked after," he said.
Mr Lenihan said that Fine Gael's claim that it could save billions of euro in efficiencies were even "more incredible".
"If it were that easy, I would have done it over the last year," he claimed.
However, Fine Gael's policy of imposing €3bn in public sector cutbacks was backed up last night by Friends First chief economist Jim Power.
"Cuts are eminently deliverable without affecting frontline services. To suggest that it would, is just political posturing on behalf of Fianna Fail," he said.
At Fine Gael's election headquarters in Dublin, Mr Noonan said his party would increase the standard rate of VAT from 21pc to 23pc over the next three years. But the lower VAT rate of 13.5pc would be reduced to 12pc to help those in the service industry such as hairdressers.
"They are all domestic service industries with high jobs potential," he said.
Fine Gael is also pledging to reduce unemployment benefit by an extra €10 a week over the next three years -- although carers, the blind and the disabled will be exempted.
It stated it could save €1bn by mounting an "all-out war" on social welfare fraud and merging the 1,500 government offices making payments into one single service.
Mr Noonan ruled out making any commitment to restoring the pay of student nurses -- who are due to lose it all in four years' time. He said his party planned to appoint a new cabinet minister to drive public sector reform -- but declined to say if Fine Gael would make way for it by abolishing other ministries.
"It's a matter for a Taoiseach to decide the layout of Government departments. It's beyond my pay scale," he said.