SO much of the thrust of it had been agreed in advance during the negotiations for the programme for government before the summer, and then aired in the media, that this week’s Budget 2017 announcement was more or less as predicted, with no major surprises. In fact, it was more of an anti-climax because the government had a lot less money at its disposal for extra spending and tax concessions than the previous one had for last year’s giveaway pre-election budget.
Two-thirds of the €1bn that was available this year had to be allocated for increased public spending – something Fianna Fáil was claiming credit for insisting on – so there was very little wriggle room for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to do anything major in the way of easing the burden of the Universal Social Charge. It hardly seems likely that Fine Gael would ever have been able to deliver on its pre-election promise to phase out the USC within five years given the resources available and the various uncertainties that have to be faced.
Among the laughable pre-Budget spin was that the government needed to make it ‘Brexit-proof.’ We cannot comment on whether or not it did that because we don’t know what it means, but if it involved being prudent, then that the Budget certainly was.
Spending increases on more gardai and teachers were a given as they were needed anyway to cope with increasing demands. Health and housing got some investment, but nowhere near the scale needed.
On the social welfare side, increases such as a further promised increment in the restoration of the Christmas bonus payment was merely compensation for it having been abolished during the economic downturn. Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar was somewhat reticent before the Budget about increasing the old age pension, putting himself in peril of a backlash from the grey vote!
As with all Budget announcements, the devil is in the detail and, no doubt, over the coming days and weeks, some controversy will be sparked by it, mainly by sectors who did not get what they wanted.