18/04/2002

Secretary of State hails Budget as good news for NI

Secretary of State, Dr John Reid, has hailed the Chancellor’s budget as good news for Northern Ireland.

The Government has pledged nearly £2.7 billion extra funding available for health services in Northern Ireland over the next five years. Small businesses and families are all also set to benefit from the Chancellor's announcement.

Responding to the Chancellor's budget, Dr Reid said: “This is good news for quality public services, for the economy in Northern Ireland and for families.

“When you look at the amounts of money being made available for health in Northern Ireland in the budget, you can see that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Northern Ireland Executive to spend this money where it can really make a difference – and give people a world class health service fit for the 21st century.

“The Government has done its bit. We are making the money available and it is now for the Northern Ireland Executive to decide how to spend it.”

However, Ulster Unionist Treasury Spokesman Jeffrey Donaldson said the Budget would have to be closely examined to discover if its provisions were as positive as they appeared.

Speaking from Westminster, the Lagan Valley MP said: “I am happy to welcome the additional money for education. While the Chancellor certainly mentioned increases in the budgets of different categories of schools, we need to know if these increases extend to schools in Northern Ireland. Only detailed questions to the Chancellor will answer these questions.

"We also need to discover more about the supposed tax cuts to be given to the haulage industry that will obviously be of crucial importance to the Northern Ireland economy. I will be monitoring the consultation exercise very closely.

"On the negative side, I am disappointed that the Chancellor has felt obliged to increase duty on cigarettes which will once again increase the likelihood of cross-border smuggling in the Province. I suppose we must feel grateful up to a point that duty on fuel will not rise and for the decision on car tax which, again, has habitually risen to the detriment of people in Northern Ireland."

Mr Donaldson concluded by saying that on top of all these measures hung the confirmation that National Insurance contributions would increase for both employees and employers. He said this would obviously have a very significant effect on the income of individuals and companies and that the Government would have to ensure that unemployment did not rise as a result of this change.

(MB)

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