Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

New divisions over budget plans

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson said budget cuts were forced by the Westminster Government

Fresh divisions have emerged between Northern Ireland ministers over the draft budget plans they unveiled only weeks ago.

DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson attacked claims by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey that cuts to his department could cost 4,000 jobs.

And while the DUP and Sinn Fein had claimed the economic blueprint eased the burden of massive cuts imposed by London, the Ulster Unionist Party has now said it believes the Stormont plan is based on "speculative budgeting".

Mr McGimpsey has rejected the claims of fellow ministers that his department has been treated fairly and said it faces £800 million in cuts over four years.

But Mr Wilson said the budget cuts were forced by the Westminster Government, and he noted that the Ulster Unionist Party had campaigned on a joint ticket with the Conservatives in the general election.

Mr Wilson said: "I think it's the job of all ministers at present to try and be as responsible as possible in the face of what is a very difficult economic situation. And I think that any minister, especially a minister who belongs to a party which has actually gone out and advocated that people should vote for the Conservative Party, which has imposed these cuts, probably has a double duty to be responsible in the way in which they react to that.

"And, you know, you can't on one hand, walk down the streets and canvass for a spending-cutting party, and then the next day join the trade unions and protest against those very cuts. I think the public see through that."

But as Mr Wilson made his comment in the Assembly chamber, the UUP, which holds two ministerial seats on the Executive, released an interim review of the Executive's budget proposals.

The UUP confirmed it was unwilling to back the current plan: "Due to the high level of unknown outcomes based on limited information and aspirational claims, the Ulster Unionist Party is unable to endorse the draft Budget proposal," the party said.

But the decision was condemned by Mr Wilson, who said: "It is gross hypocrisy for UUP to reject the draft budget as they are a 'franchise' of the Conservative Party. I wish we had more money but the reality is that the UUP's friends in the Tories have slashed our budget."

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