Muir: Budget must be about stimulating a sustainable recovery

Alliance Finance Spokesperson Andrew Muir has said that while the Coronavirus pandemic has transformed public finances for the foreseeable future, the right recovery strategy must be matched by financial security to back it up with a Regional Infrastructure Panel or Commission needed to secure swift delivery of capital investment projects.

Mr Muir made the comments during a debate on the budget in the Northern Ireland Assembly, adding now was also the time for a “co-ordinated and strategic” approach, which brings together government, business, trade unions and the third sector in a social partnership approach.

He said: “Alliance is previously on record as supporting this budget, and that position remains today. Yet while we largely recognise the good and immediate work undertaken to help and protect many sectors within our community during this challenging time, I would add that still too many have been left without financial support such as sole traders and more.

“This budget must also be about more than the immediate challenges it must be about stimulating a sustainable recovery, protecting public services and safeguarding people’s jobs and incomes. That’s why we must get more certainty on timing and extent of future Barnett Consequentials is essential to aid co-ordinated and strategic approach to recovery. Money dedicated to saving businesses today will not be well spent if we cannot provide the support required to ensure that these businesses and their employees can adapt to the new normal.

“The real risk of No Deal Brexit should also be considered on the day I received correspondence from the Economy Minister after enquiring about resourcing to deal with redundancies arising from the pandemic stating “My Department is very conscious of the potential for an increase in redundancies and had already put arrangements in place to take account of the possibility of an increase in demand following EU exit.

“The power of capital investment must be utilised to help stimulate recovery with research from the University of Oxford showing that green capital investments are the most effective, both in the short and the long-term, for a sustainable, green recovery.

“A Regional Infrastructure Panel or Commission to identify and rapidly progress the most important long-term infrastructure needs is very clear, alongside a new Single Infrastructure Plan informed by advice from the Panel or Commission. Long awaited strategic review of planning must also be undertaken. The average time taken by the Department for Infrastructure to determine a Planning Application of 260 weeks in 2018/19 just isn’t acceptable never mind the longest of 556 weeks!

“The Executive now has an immense responsibility to our community to help steer our economy into the new normal and protect the health and livelihoods of our people. The budget, and all of our financial decisions, must be centred on that goal.”