Monday 19 March 2018

Where does this corner lead to?

It may seem unfair, but many will ask if last week's Exchequer returns were a case of failure masquerading as success? The Government is entitled to be relieved and pleased that it is still, somehow, poised to meet its budgetary targets. Revenue is up, expenditure, mysteriously in departments such as Health, is below target and even unemployment is falling. Ministers can argue that, though she is a joyless courtesan, the thrifty virgin of austerity is delivering. It may even be doing so to the extent that the politically tantalising prospect of two progressive Budgets in the electorally critical cycle of 2015 and 2016 is within reach.

But often, that which appears on the surface to be successful is less attractive when looked at critically. It may balance the books but increasing taxation and cutting spending in a somnolent economy, as Ireland's depressed VAT returns show, often only generates a paper recovery. Charles Haughey once correctly warned that accountants, who generally lack vision, make bad finance ministers. Last week's figures may allow a Government that often appears bewitched by the accountants in Finance to claim we are turning the corner. But, for the taxpayer citizen, the turn appears to be towards a place of stagnation.

In one of its happier weeks, the Government and Phil Hogan can, however, be commended for their commitment to a decisive resolution of Priory Hall. This was evolving into the latter-day equivalent of that Hepatitis C scandal that did so much political damage to its Rainbow predecessors.

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