Dr Stephen Farry stated: “The Finance Minister has identified a funding gap of £450m over the next two years. While some of this may be due to the changed economic circumstances, over half of it is the decision taken by the Executive last year to defer water charges for a further two years. This move was not anticipated in either the Programme for Government or the Budget, and was taken without consideration of where the resources would come from.
“The issue is not whether or not water charges should go ahead, but whether the Executive has acted in a financially responsible manner.
“This Executive should be doing all that it can to mitigate the effects of a global economic downturn and to modernise our economy to best take advantage of recovery.
“At a time when the economic situation in Northern Ireland demands decisive leadership from government, this stocktake is little more than a glorified monitoring round.
“There have been enormous changes in the economic context in the period since the current budget was formulated. The Executive should have sat down to collectively re-examine their priorities to ensure that all the instruments of government were effectively mobilised to encourage economic activity.
“Instead, this stocktake has been shaped merely by what Departments are prepared to surrender and the gaps the finance minister needs to plug.
“The existing budget framework for Northern Ireland is already tight due to the distortions of the cost of division. This has been made worse by the Executive placing populism ahead of considered investment.
“In terms of the scale of response to the economic crisis, the actions of this Executive pale into significance compared to those of other governments. Northern Ireland is missing out on the opportunity to get things right, including the switch to the green economy.”