Excerpts of speech from Judith Cochrane MLA (subject to change on delivery): In respect of the report and in considering the aforementioned Departments and their associated requirements and estimates, the pervasive concern for us as Members should be the need for air-tight accountability across the board and additionally, a clear and identifiable range of priority areas reflecting where need is greatest. The pre-emptive allowance for capital projects and the Irish Open within the DETI Estimates highlight the reflective and pro-active nature which we should seek to ingrain within the allocation of all Departmental spending. A more cohesive approach, prioritising areas based on need and supporting areas showing economic potential, will make for a more efficient and ultimately more effective system of government.
In Northern Ireland our budgetary position is traditionally levied upon us at the discretion of the Westminster government, and so we are hamstrung in what we can realistically hope to secure on a year to year basis. You can’t find gold in a coal mine however and rather than cry foul and vilify those controlling the purse strings, in the face of the economic climate as it stands currently we must rise to challenge set before us and seek to mitigate these reductions through supporting revenue-generating enterprises.
There are alternative ways through which we can further seek to improve the efficiency within our government, and going forward I see it as imperative that we shift the balance of services altering how funds are apportioned, specifically toward early intervention and preventative measures. A change in the balance of resources into programmes seeking to prevent problems from emerging or to intervene at an early stage could produce a wealth of savings, avoiding the need for greater levels of resource spending after problems fully develop. Currently still, the funding of the former tends to be optional while the funding of the latter tends to be statutory but an enhanced focus on preventative measures can ensure savings across a range of public spending areas including health and justice, the two Departments with the greatest additional requirements within the estimates presented here today.
At a time when we are trying to grow our economy, the resources wasted on the cost of division are a massive millstone around our neck. Residential segregation continues to create considerable inefficiencies for the housing sector, along with the significant costs associated with the underdevelopment of blighted or segregated land. From a Social Development perspective, I believe there needs to be much greater consideration given to the promotion and development of mixed housing. People should have a genuine choice over where they choose to live, irrespective of their religious, political or racial background and ultimately, mixed housing should serve as the default model for the provision of any social housing.
We also need to promote more shared services on a North South basis. This need not be about politics but about good finance and economics. The north south ministerial council already exists but progress on the north south parliamentary forum would also be beneficial as it could act as another opportunity to benchmark with neighbouring jurisdictions. This is not about political grandstanding but practical issues.