LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD

4 January 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

In these fulcrum days when the lever of time revolves one year into another, there is customarily much looking back, and looking forward.
In many respects, 2012 will have departed with a hearty “good riddance” ringing in its wake as loudly as any auld lang syne chimes.
It was another bleak economic year, and many businesses in our circulation area did not survive it – many more enter into 2013 clinging on to survival and deeply uncertain as to what the future holds.
Difficulties besetting employers bequeath troubles on employees – the mounting ravages which take-home pay has been subjected to by a succession of severe Budgets and associated economic pressures make the task of balancing the household finances an increasingly difficult one even for those in work, while those recently jobless or in that position for more lengthy periods look in vain for evidences of meaningful growth that would afford them the opportunity to change their circumstances.
The harsh and unavoidable realities of recession have shaped the perception of the past year for a great many people, and are likely to dictate how they experience the coming 12 months.
On its broader canvas 2012 was a year of contrasts, and many controversies.
Nationally we experienced our share of sporting glory, due primarily to the exploits of our Olympians and Paralypians and the thrilling achievements of golfer Rory McIlroy, and a portion of disappointment when the Republic of Ireland soccer team, with the nation poised for a spirt-renewing party, performed so miserably in the European Championships.
It was a year when the stock of politicians continued its devaluation, but the traditional persecutors of the political breed who populate the media could hardly gloat as their reputation took a battering too – with RTE battling to restore its reputation amid two major controversies, and the Levinson Inquiry in Britain exposing the deep roots of a culture of low practice and unaccountability in the national newspaper sphere.
The journalists of this newspaper who conduct the annual exercise of compiling a review of the year were stuck by how the distinct national trend of exalted highs and abysmal lows was replicated at local level in the stories which received prominence in our pages as the months unfurled.
Co Monaghan, too, experienced its portion of triumph and tragedy – and while job losses, deaths and some serious crime brought worry and sadness into our community, as a newspaper that always endeavours to accentuate the positive in our midst we also found much to highlight in terms of development, achievement and merit.
Any review of world, national or local events from the past and preceding years discloses one recurring theme that seems to set the beat for what is emerging as quite a profound societal restructuring.
We are, for better, or worse living in the era of the efficiency.
Rationalisation, centralisation, reform, amalgamation, reconfiguration, ‘doing more with less’…the new way of things wears many guises, but whatever phraseology is applied to it, there is no escaping the fact that a lot of cutting and cutback is going on.
Not that long ago, when the country was booming, little more than cursory attention was given to such reforms – now their urgency is paramount.
The period of exceptional economic growth Ireland experienced undoubtedly fuelled instances of excess, particularly the orgy of lending and spending that ensued, that contributed mightily to our current troubles.
But it would be simplistic to believe that every area of functioning in our society was not that long ago awash with inefficiency – we could hardly have achieved such prosperity as we lately enjoyed if that were the case.
Consequently we should not blindly accept the necessity of every cut in service or function or entitlement that is being urged upon us at the present time – each such proposal should be closely examined, and their proponents interrogated as to the reasoning and rationale behind them.
It might well be that we will emerge from the current climate of austerity and privation with leaner, better, more accountable structures of government and administration – but that will only happen if efficiencies are carefully and considerately applied to where it is demonstrable that they are needed.
The cut, cut, cut philosophy being lately pursued by Government offers no guarantee that the users of the services that are being subjected to it will not be worse off at the end of the day.
There has already been an example of the folly behind such a philosophy with the debacle that has ensued over the rate of approval of college grant applications by the new Student Universal Support Ireland system.
Here a service that was being handled well at local level by Co Councils and VECs throughout the country was hived off to a single administrative structure in Dublin which was evidently ill-prepared and insufficiently resourced to discharge the responsibility.
Have we any guarantee that – stripped of the aspirational and obfuscating language of the Putting People First document that heralded it – the pending reforms in the delivery of local government services will work any better?
Panic, not principle, has been the motivation for much of the ‘efficiencies’ at present being foisted upon us – and panic is a notoriously dangerous pilot.
As 2013 unfolds, great care must be taken that the headlong plunge towards efficiency does not foster a wider climate that is inimical to the entrepreneurial spirit, the visionary risk-taking acumen that has fostered so much sound development at local level – particularly in Co Monaghan – and which will have an essential role to play in any meaningful economic recovery.
There are already signs of such an anti-enterprise climate in the loss of so many small businesses and small retail outlets from our towns and rural areas, with larger shopping outlets and industrial concerns swallowing up an increasing part of the available business.
Large employers make vital contributions to the economy of their catchment areas and sustain vital levels of employment – but a commercial landscape bereft of local shops and small enterprises is ultimately an arid one for the consumer and a difficult one for the sort of small-scale growth to prosper that will be the first building blocks of new jobs and sustainable local growth.
The drive towards efficiency should not be allowed to create a climate in which entrepreneurship and diversity cannot be sustained – and in which efficiently functioning and valuable public services are subjected to the same cutbacks as the inefficient and redundant.
Our national, local and individual fortunes during 2013 will be significantly influenced by how well or badly the new efficiency ethos is implemented.

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