Alliance criticises lack of strategic approach in budget outlook consultation

Alliance Party Deputy Leader, Stephen Farry, has said Northern Ireland risks slipping behind neighbouring jurisdictions in key areas, as he criticised the lack of a strategic approach to the budget outlook consultation.

Outlining his party’s response to the consultation document issued by the Department of Finance in December – which closed on January 26 – Dr Farry said that while Alliance recognises the urgency of rapid decisions on budget decisions, the party was disappointed key reforms could be further delayed, with looming cuts set to impact all areas of public life.

Stephen Farry said: “Northern Ireland is facing an ever growing financial crisis, with major implications for public services and the prospects for our economy. Regrettably, this reality is a secondary concern to the issues at the heart of the deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Féin preventing the restoration of devolution.

“In all scenarios set out by the NI Civil Service we will see across the board cuts, which will bring a deep impact on public services and our ability to invest in transforming our economy.

“What has been set out does not reflect a strategic approach. It is a rolling forward of previous assumptions. It does not relate to the draft Programme for Government. Indeed the suggestion of two years ring-fencing of education will both protect massive inefficiency and effectiveness and starve other areas of resources, and be counter-productive to transforming our economy through de-investing from work-based training.

“The looming cuts will bring massive impact on colleges, universities, training programmes, inward investment prospects, the arts sector, road maintenance and street lighting, rural transport, rural support, the criminal justice system to name just a few.

“But even a standstill is not sufficient. The status quo is not sustainable in the health service, and many other pressures are building up such as the legacy of the past and deficits in skills budgets.

“We urgently need for a devolved Executive that can take proper strategic decisions and make changes in policy. Even swift action will not produce significant results for another financial year. But by contrast, further political delays will further compound Northern Ireland’s unsustainable public finances and compromise the quality of life and opportunities of the people of Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland is falling further and further behind in terms of many of the reforms that are being put in place in other jurisdictions. This in increasingly placing us at a competitive disadvantage and will undermine the life prospects of many people.

“While major opportunities have been missed, difficult decisions put off and mistakes have been made over previous years of devolution, a functioning devolved Executive is required to bring political stability and to progress key reforms. Direct rule cannot bring the necessary focus and political cohesion in a divided society.

“There is complacency in some quarters that Northern Ireland can stumble along and we can catch up with financial decisions in due course. This delayed approach does nothing to assist proper planning and the efficient and effective provision of public services, and the sustainability of key partners in the community and voluntary sector.”

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