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Saturday 21 October 2017

Terry Prone: This drip feeding of budget information is calculated to terrify

FEAR and trepidation. That's what it's like, on the ground. The guys in the Mercs trailing into Farmleigh House know what's going on, but the rest of us just know the scale of what must come out of the economy -- an unimaginable figure. Years ago, we were frightened by millions.

Now, everything is billions, and we know 15 of those big ones have to be found over the next four years.

But that's all we know, other than that dread phrase "Everything's on the table." That means one thing to the Merc passengers and something completely different to the rest of us. To the rest of us, it means that WE'RE on the table. Trussed but not anaesthetised. Waiting for the scalpel to fall on our arm. Or leg. Or both.

Mutters

That's the problem with the communication around this particular Budget. The lead in to a Budget is usually about three weeks long at the most.

This time, we've spent half a year being told the worst, then being told that figure was conservative and what they really meant was another billion. Then Michael Noonan goes in to the Department of Finance, comes out and mutters that it's going to be much more than the biggest estimate.

Now we know execution is being lined up for us. But we don't know who's going first or what the method will be.

No business would operate on this kind of communication from management. Because successful businesses know that ordinary people are amazingly brave, resilient and resourceful.

Give them the information, tell them the worst, and they'll brace themselves and get on with it.

A drip feed of unusable information, on the other hand, is calculated to create fear. And that's what's been coming from the Government. Maybe they can't help it.

Maybe they're too transfixed by the horror of the figures with which they have to deal to even consider soft-and-fuzzy stuff like communication. Or maybe they believe that if they spread the bloodied brush-strokes wide enough and terrify everybody equally, then, when the Budget itself comes out, most people will be slightly relieved.

If that's what they think, then they have another think coming. Studies of the outcomes of major surgery show that the more information patients get, in terms they understand, the better they do afterwards.

If the surgeon talks to them as human beings and indicates he or she fully understands what they're experiencing, then an even more interesting thing happens.

In the event of a bad outcome, if, for example, the patient suffers extreme complications, the surgeon who respected the patient and talked to them in a way they could grasp in advance of the surgery is much less likely to be sued by the patient once the patient gets out of hospital.

That's not happening to us, the patients in this theatre of surgery. We took care of ourselves reasonably well and didn't cause the problem the surgical team are now setting out to solve.

But we're now being treated as if we were merely collateral damage. They may have to take toes, fingers or even a head off us and they're not going to tell us in advance. Other than that generalised threat of everything being on the table.

Hopeless

Last night, a minister was asked on radio what the Government planned in the way of stimulus. Hidden in the question was a rake of other questions. Like: Have you any hope for us? Like: How long will we be jobless and hopeless? Like: How many of our children will have to emigrate?

She hesitated and then said that job creation was a priority for the Government. The national reaction was "Yeah, right."

Because a promise like that is not worth the air it's written on -- especially when the Government is giving us no real sense of what faces us in early November.

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