17/04/2009

Executive Finance Needs Pre-Budget Fillip Says MLAs

While some local politicians are warning that next week's UK Budget will have a severe impact on finance for the Stormont Assembly - the devolved administration's record on money matters has been stoutly defended.

Ahead of the traditional statement by Chancellor Alistair Darling, (pictured), Ulster Unionists (UU) are to step up pressure for a fresh look at the NI Executive's own three-year budget arrangements. The SDLP has also said MLAs must reassert their authority and insist on new budget priorities.

UU Finance Committee Member David McNarry warned predictions of an austere budget next Wednesday could mean new efficiency targets and yet more "tinkering with Northern Ireland's block grant and reductions in public spending".

Addressing his remarks for the benefit of NI Executive Finance Minister Nigel Dodds, Mr McNarry said there would be "little room to manoeuvre if he (Dodds) sticks stubbornly to his own outdated financial plans".

"Come budget day our own Finance Minister will, in my opinion, have no choice other than to break with his financial programme with immediate effect.

"He needs to re-write, re-order and re-prioritise the manner in which Northern Ireland's financial affairs are to be managed in the future," the Strangford MLA added.

SDLP Deputy Leader Alasdair McDonnell said the budget put together last year by Sinn Féin and the DUP has now lost any last shred of credibility.

The Assembly "must revisit it without delay", he agreed.

His own party recently set out a potential £400m in savings, he insisted: "The projections were never realistic to the extent that they were expected to hold for three years.

"There is a very good reason why governments and businesses around the world set budgets once a year - because things change.

"At a time when families are being forced to change their budget priorities it is irresponsible of the parties which control the Executive not to do the same," he said.

However, Stormont Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson has since told an audience of financial specialists in Belfast that the Northern Ireland Executive is taking "the right steps to support the local economy".

Addressing around 130 people at the annual dinner of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Mr Donaldson said that the Executive was "on course for steering the Northern Ireland economy out of recession".

"Used intelligently, our local public expenditure can provide support and stimulus to local markets, business and people. The Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy are the key pillars on which we will build our plans and tactics for weathering the economic crisis.

"The Northern Ireland economy can weather the storm and achieve sustainable economic growth in the longer term when we eventually emerge from the current downturn."

(BMcC/JM)

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