In advance of next year’s general election, Budget 2016 has been widely proclaimed as the ‘giveaway budget’.
During his speech on Tuesday last, Finance Minister Michael Noonan claimed that Ireland is “well on course” to restoring our sovereignty.
And with the Budget also including a €1.5 billion spending package, there were few major losers from last week’s announcement – apart from smokers.
However, despite all the pre-Budget hype and now customary kite-flying leaks, all in all there were just small, albeit positive improvements worth noting.
The provision for additional Gardaí, which we certainly need in the south east, was a welcome measure – and those new recruits cannot come soon enough.
Some additional funds to facilitate the Technological University merger is listed at €2 million – small money to be frank, and one suspects this minor injection won’t do a great deal to accelerate the process.
While homelessness is gaining a great deal of attention, particularly in Dublin, there are also problems on this front in Waterford, and it’s an issue which Focus Ireland had done its utmost to address in a national context.
Another area of particular note is pre-school childcare. Considerable research suggests that this year has many benefits to young children in terms of learning, health and social behaviour.
Most countries like UK and also USA are moving in this direction, following proven success across Continental Europe.
This is also a good jobs provider for childcare workers and allows more women to enter workforce. However, pay levels for existing childcare workers remains a concern and one would expect degree level and Level 8 qualified workers to be paid at a level commensurate to their training.
The cost of childcare has been a major issue for several years, and with free care for children up to the age of six. And with provision in the Budget to provide free care for children up the age of 12, this should certainly help parents, as will statutory paternity leave from September 2016.
Other highlights are: an increase in minimum wage from €8.65 to €9.15 from January next while the Universal Social Charge has been reduced as follows:
* The 1.5 per cent rate (on the first €12,012 earned) will be cut to 1 per cent;
* The 3.5 per cent rate (on income of €12,012 to €18,668) falls to 3 per cent and
* The 7 per cent rate (on earnings of €18,668 to €70,044) will fall to 5.5 per cent.
The tourism and also newspaper industry are happy that their VAT rate is to stay low at nine per cent, a move which is of “enormous importance” to the hotel industry.
Self employed workers will get improved tax parity with PAYE sector on phased basis. The pension levy of 0.15 per cent is being abolished at the end of this year.
The opposition did their best to embarrass the Government parties but one feels that no knockout punches were landed by those seeking to unseat Fine Gael and Labour.
However, water charges and rural crime levels will remain pressing issues in both the urban and rural communities come election time.