Spring is here but there's no bonanza
Published 29/04/2015 | 02:30
The danger in having something for everyone in the audience is that no one will be terribly satisfied with what they get. That is the risk the Government runs with its decision to have a 'Spring Statement' six months before the Budget.
It was a brave decision and a good one. The old system of keeping everything a secret until it was announced with a fanfare on Budget day - after a series of well-planned leaks - is not a good way to manage the national finances and increasingly out of line with elsewhere.
But it is not clear whether the Government's heart is really in it, or whether it is inspired just by the need to fight a General Election not too long after the October Budget.
One can understand Government caution. It has given the Opposition and the interest groups six months to complain about the statement and presumably sees no reason to give them any more. The hard fact is that, behind the rhetoric, there really is not very much for everyone in the audience.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan made the point that he would have had more - around €2bn - were it not for the new EU budgetary rules. Yet even with the more modest €1.4bn required by those rules, the national finances will improve only slowly.
It will be 2020 before there is an overall surplus and the national debt falls below 90pc of GDP. The Government is right not to try to do more, but it would be unwise to do less.
Behind those numbers lies an increase of just 2pc in day-to-day spending over the period, while investment is less than the country really needs after the gutting of the capital programme during the recession.
Taxation will probably get most attention. Restoring the national finances to good health requires revenues to rise in line with the economy, which means an extra €10bn by 2020.
The Government has a difficult message to sell. It can rightly say it has achieved its objectives and austerity has come to an end, but there can be no bonanza. There is plenty of room for argument about what precisely should be done, but none for empty political promises of good times all round.