Pieces of budget jigsaw gradually fit together on the way to €3.5bn adjustment
BACKGROUND:Despite last-minute leaks, this year’s run up to the budget has been marked by low level of kite-flying
Hour by hour and leak by leak the picture of what is likely to come in tomorrow’s budget is becoming clearer.
Lobby groups have lodged their pre-budget submissions, debated their concerns with Government Ministers and must now wait to see what is coming down the pipeline.
Headline measures such as an overall adjustment of €3.5 billion and a property tax have long been flagged, and day by day we’re hearing heard reports of items such as hikes to motor tax, cuts to child benefit and changes to maternity leave.
But lobby groups feel much less certain about the specifics of what might come in Budget 2013 than they have been in relation to recent budgets.
The news agenda has been crowded by the controversy surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar at a time when news stories about leaked budget proposals have become a tradition. But the scale of the kite-flying seen in and around Kildare Street last year has also been significantly reduced.
“It has been a most unusual pre-budget process this year, said a spokesman for one of the interest groups surveyed by The Irish Times.
“Backbench TDs and even junior ministers seem to know a lot less about what is coming. Ministers have been respectful and willing to listen to our ideas but are giving far fewer indications or assurances when it comes to what we can expect.
This might suggest the Coalition has learned from the experience of 2011, when it was reportedly experiencing divisions over policy at the time of its first budget.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney last December described budget leaks as regrettable, saying internal Fine Gael-Labour tensions had led the Coalition to make mistakes.
The stymied flow of information from the various departments also ties in with reports that the Economic Management Council – comprising Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan – is calling all the shots in the budget process.
The council is setting down expenditure parameters for all Government departments, something Mr Noonan said was an obvious constraint on the actions of individual departments.
Some Ministers outside the group, which meets weekly, have privately expressed reservations about it, namely that the council has eroded some of the Cabinet’s traditional power.
As budget day draws nearer, more information has reportedly been shared with Ministers outside the council and the leaks have started to come at a faster pace. Access to Ministers as part of the decision-making process remains open to the vast majority of interest groups surveyed, with most having put their views to Mr Noonan, Mr Howlin or the relevant Minister.
The Department of Finance said it had received hundreds of pre-budget submissions.
Proposals this year range from simple requests such as maintaining social welfare payments at current rates to more detailed ideas such as investing billions in stimulus packages, the cost of which could be offset by wealth taxes and clampdowns on tax evasion and avoidance.
The submissions gave the impression that interest groups believe maintaining what they have will represent a victory.