Stephen Farry MLA said: “The Finance Minister is right in stressing the scale of the potential financial challenge facing Northern Ireland over coming years. The scale of the cuts to the Block Grant is set to rise from the £128m requested this year as the Government increases the scale of the overall cuts in UK spending as it rebalances the national public finances.
“The challenge for Northern Ireland has been made worse by the recent reluctance of the Executive to tackle some fundamental distortions in local expenditure and past missed opportunities for reform. Any further stalling on addressing these issues will entail even greater pain in terms of the impact on public services such as health and education.
“Alliance has consistently highlighted the need for government to make a start on addressing the costs of managing a divided society. This £1billion cost per year will not be eliminated quickly, but it must be confronted nevertheless.
“The Executive has also ducked what is an inevitable decision on the introduction of water charges. Surely, the matter can be no longer about whether water charges are introduced but rather how they are introduced in terms of fairness and a link to ability to pay. For any party that care about social justice and quality and accessible public services this is the only honest position to take. I take some encouragement from the Finance Minister’s new rhetoric around this, but the position of other parties is simply unsustainable.
“Even with these, tough decisions are still going to be required. There are no silver bullets in terms of quango reviews or reform of the structures. Important at these are to address, by themselves, they cannot produce the magnitude of saving required. Alliance believes that greater emphasis does need to be given to prevention and early intervention policies. These will reduce the cost pressures facing Departments. Cuts in these areas would be a false economy.”