Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Underfunding Of Balearic Public Services

If a report is issued by a union - the UGT in this instance - you might be inclined to think that any negative findings would be the result of political bias. However, when another report appears simultaneously from a bank or at least a bank's foundation - BBVA's - then you might be inclined to revise your opinion. What both reports highlight is that public services in the Balearics are, by comparison with almost everywhere else in Spain, underfunded - and underfunded by some distance.

Education. This has the lowest funding per head of population of all the regions of Spain. At 793 euros per head, it is a quarter lower than spending by the top-rated region, the Basque Country. Health. The Balearics has the second lowest financing but only by one euro - Valencia is worse off at 1,079 euros. Social services. Second to bottom here as well: less than 61 euros per person.

That the BBVA Foundation, in collaboration with the Valencia Institute of Economic Research, can come up with virtually identical results to those of the union makes these results hard to dispute. They also make for potentially grim reading for the Partido Popular. With the election on its way, disclosure as to such low levels of financing gives opponents plenty of ammunition and the electorate - many of them anyway - cause for concern and for possible reconsideration of voting choice. They reinforce criticism of cuts in public spending by the Bauzá administration and a perception that government policy has been one of pushing the public towards the private sector in both education and health.

If the UGT's report had not got the support it has, the government would have wriggle room, but the BBVA report makes any attempts to argue with the findings less plausible. It will be interesting to see how the PP tries to spin them, though it might prefer to try and ignore them. Other parties, however, won't allow them to, and the fact that two of the sectors - education and health - have been the ones for which there has been ministerial upheaval over the course of the Bauza administration will merely add fuel to their arguments: both ministries have had three ministers in the past four years.

When it comes to health, it can safely be said that the second of these ministers, Antoni Mesquida, resigned because he didn't agree with government policy. This may well have been the reason why the first, Carmen Castro, also left the post. She, though, went under the explanation of "personal reasons", never to be heard from again; Mesquida was not quite so taciturn. The third one, Martí Sansaloni, just did as he was told, though tellingly, he is not on the PP list of candidates for parliamentary deputies on 24 May. Sansaloni was left to defend the chaos that broke out in the health service towards the end of last year when local health centres were unable to meet patient appointments because of lack of doctors and nurses. Sansaloni attributed this to a computer error in not assigning staff to cover for absence and holidays. No one really believed him, and when the finance minister had to dig into the coffers to give the health service some money to see it through to the end of the year, this disbelief was confirmed.

Education policy, as I suspect we are all only too painfully aware, has been dominated by the trilingual teaching (TIL) fiasco. It was one that claimed the first minister, Rafael Bosch, because he wasn't an enthusiastic advocate, and the second, Joana Camps, because she wasn't any good. But TIL has obscured the cuts in spending on a public education service which consistently turns in poor performance results when compared with other Spanish regions. There is, though, a telling factor in these comparative figures, and it is linked to TIL. The Basque Country is the only region of Spain to have a properly established three-language teaching system. Nowhere else has really attempted to have one (a full-on one), except the Balearics over the course of the Bauza administration. Education funding that is 25% greater than that of the Balearics must surely tell a story. In addition to its three-language system of Basque, Castellano and English, the Basque Country is a consistently good education performer, as revealed by the student assessment measures.

Of course, the government may well try and justify the findings by blaming them on the raw-deal financing that the Balearics receives through the redistribution of revenues from the national government, and it may well be justified in doing so. However, perceptions, as always are what count rather than simply quoting numbers, and while there is a perception of cuts as a means of promoting the private sector, such justification will fall on many a deaf ear. These reports are not good news for the PP.

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