Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Northern Ireland public sector cuts: Prepare for pain, says Sammy Wilson

Executive decisions on how to bear the looming £2 billion spending cuts will be the most difficult in living memory, Sammy Wilson will warn today.

The finance minister will use his address at the annual conference of the Northern Ireland Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy to stress that pain is inevitable.

Mr Wilson has been criticised by Sinn Fein for allegedly not doing enough to challenge the anticipated cut to the block grant in the coalition Government's spending review next month.

But the minister insisted that there is no sympathy at the Treasury for the argument that Northern Ireland is a special case.

Ahead of the conference in Newcastle, Co Down, he said: "The next four years, and perhaps beyond, are going to be one of the most difficult periods for planning public expenditure in living memory.

"The expenditure cuts we face are a certainty. The continuous growth in public expenditure that we have enjoyed is over; we are in a different world now.

"The magnitude of the expected cuts and the tough choices that have to be made mean we have to plan carefully and do it now.

"Pain is inevitable, but however difficult it is going to be, we have to approach it in a constructive way.

"Wringing our hands or whinging about it won't take us anywhere - we have to get on and deal with it.

"This is what people expect of us; this is what devolution is about.

"When making these tough decisions, I am firmly of the view that growing our economy must be the number one priority if we are to improve living standards locally. Our future expenditure allocations must reflect this priority."

He added: "We cannot just wait the outcome of the spending review and then respond to give people the decisions they need.

"The onus is on me as finance minister to develop a budget that charts the proper way forward. I will do this and I will continue to work with all executive ministers to seek to agree our priorities and to seek out where financial savings can be made."

Mr Wilson also reflected on the possibility of a reduction in the rate of business tax in Northern Ireland, and claimed it would not be a "silver bullet".

This is one of the options being considered by the coalition Government, which is currently compiling a paper on how to boost the region's economic performance.

"I welcome the fact that the coalition Government has agreed to publish a paper that will examine the potential mechanisms for changing the corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland and will also consider enterprise zones and other options for possible reform including possible reform of tax relief.

"There are significant expectations in Northern Ireland around this report. We need to be realistic, however. A reduced rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland would not in itself be a silver bullet. Nothing is that easy. It could also be expensive."

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