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Cabinet Office cuts not as deep as Govt would like us to believe - Gibbons

A reduction in spending on Cabinet Office departments in the coming fiscal year will not be as dramatic as Government would like us to believe, according to former Opposition Leader Grant Gibbons.

He told the House of Assembly last night that the 17 percent cut in the amount allocated for the Cabinet Office and the departments it controls Statistics, Human Resources, and Communication and Information didn't tell the whole story.

Premier Paula Cox had earlier explained to MPs that Government estimates spending $18.2 million on the four departments in 2011/12, compared to the $21.8 million alloted the previous year.

Dr Gibbons said though the $3.6 million reduction sounded impressive, much of that was because the 2010 census would soon be completed.

“When you look a little closer, you realise there was a huge reduction in the Department of Statistics because of a census the previous year, almost $2.9 million.”

The Shadow Education Minister said the Cabinet Office departments ought to have set the tone for Government in terms of cost cutting yet the real reduction in planned spending was less than five percent.

“Those departments have not set the tone perhaps to the degree that some of us think they should have, if you are looking for a ten to 15 percent cut across Government.”

Speaking about the Cabinet Office itself, which gets $6.7 million in 2011/12, he said it had not really had its budget slashed by $74,000, as Ms Cox had indicated.

Instead, Dr Gibbons argued, the Cabinet Office would increase its spending by about $500,000 in the coming fiscal year.

The misperception arose, he said, because the Sustainable Development Unit, which had an allocation of $572,000 in the Cabinet Office's 2010/11 budget, has since been moved to the Ministry of Environment.

The Budget book for 2011/12 still lists it under the Cabinet and shows an estimate of zero for 2011/12, suggesting a 100 percent reduction in spending in that area and driving down the amount of total estimated expenditure shown.

But if you take this year's $6.8 million allocation for the Cabinet Office and subtract the $572,000 for Sustainable Development, then compare it to the 2011/12 allocation of $6.7 million, it reveals an increase in spending of seven percent.

Dr Gibbons said though the Cabinet Office was saving money on Sustainable Development, it was increasing spending on Bermuda's offices in London and Washington, DC by $503,000.

“I guess we are all pleased to hear that the Washington office has now been staffed,” he said. “For a large period of last year, we were paying rent but there was nobody in there at all.”

He said he was a little sceptical of whether the two offices were providing value for money and whether the $1.6 million allocated to them jointly could be justified.

“I think sometimes that in this day and age it could be done from Bermuda or a well-placed trip over there as occasion demands, but I understand there is another side to that.”

Dr Gibbons spoke after Opposition Leader Kim Swan, who told MPs: “This year, I'm happy to say that all of the departments of Cabinet have led the way and indeed they should.”

He did note, though, that a large part of the reduced spending estimate was due to the census and said he would like to see mini censuses carried out “mid-stream”.

Mr Swan thanked the Premier for taking only an hour-and-a-half of yesterday's three-hour debate on the Cabinet Office departments to deliver her brief ensuring the Opposition had more time to respond than the 30 seconds afforded them last year by former Premier Ewart Brown.

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Published March 03, 2011 at 9:15 am (Updated March 03, 2011 at 9:15 am)

Cabinet Office cuts not as deep as Govt would like us to believe - Gibbons

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