Northern Ireland’s Finance Minister has defended government efforts to tackle the economic downturn as the Belfast Telegraph launched its Let’s Get back to Work campaign .
Just hours after this paper called on the Executive to focus on job creation in the province, Nigel Dodds addressed the Assembly to underline the positive action being taken to help minimise the impact of the recession.
Revealing that the amount of resources invested in Northern Ireland in this current financial year totals over £15.7bn, the North Belfast MP said the amount of money being spent to finance capital spend projects is double what was spent five years ago.
He said: “Over the past year, the Executive has shown its ability to move swiftly to deal with the impact of the global economic downturn.
“To help individuals deal with the pressures facing them we have moved on a number of fronts, for example by reducing the cost of prescription charges with a view to abolishing them next year, by introducing a new fuel poverty package for low-income households, by freezing regional rates, and by ensuring pensioners can travel free on public transport.
“This, however, only tells half the story. We have also been able to support local businesses at this time in a number of ways.
“I have frozen non-domestic rates and announced that I will introduce a small business rate relief scheme. I have also set a target for the public sector to ensure invoices are paid within 10 days, to help local firms with their cash flow.”
He added: “Perhaps most significantly of all, though, I am overseeing the delivery of over £1.4bn of capital investment in infrastructure projects, such as roads, schools and hospitals. This is more than double what we spent only five years ago and will further increase next year.”
The Minister rejected calls for a rewrite of the Budget and Programme for Government.
“The Executive’s Programme for Government, unveiled in January 2008, had at its heart, a focus on boosting the Northern Ireland economy to help us compete on a global stage.
“Those who are asking for the Budget and Programme for Government to be rewritten, conveniently overlook the fact that we are already focusing our efforts on areas that are key to helping Northern Ireland through these economic challenges,” he said.
“They also ignore the stark reality that, with no additional money available, a review of the budget will lead to an inevitable fall in some departments’ funding levels, with large departments like Health most likely to suffer, and they provide nothing in terms of a solution in this regard.
“Looking ahead, there will be some tough choices for the Executive to make in the coming years, reflecting the challenges across the industrialised world. However, I believe it is now time for the Assembly and Executive to work together to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.”
A major strand of the Belfast Telegraph campaign is to push the issue of job creation to the top of the political agenda at Stormont through the likes of capital spend projects.
Latest figures show that 42,000 people are out of work and yet, despite these statistics, the Department of Finance and Personnel has confirmed that 22 major government projects have been put on hold that could safeguard and create hundreds of jobs.