Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Sammy Wilson warns against delay on budget

Peter Robinson has already signalled that agreement is close on a budget following the 4 billion pounds in cuts ordered by Westminster

Agreement on a new Assembly budget cannot wait for the findings of a government report on rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson warned yesterday.

The long-anticipated paper from the Treasury, which will examine whether corporation tax should be cut, is due at the end of the year or early next.

But with Wales and Scotland having already set their spending plans and pressure mounting on the Executive to follow suit quickly, the Finance Minister said the process could not be held up for the paper.

During Assembly question time, Sinn Fein's Cathal Boylan, MLA for Newry and Armagh, said it was important to be aware of the Treasury's proposals ahead of striking a budget.

"We need all the information and all the detail before we sit down to discuss the budget and properly address it," he said.

But Mr Wilson stressed the dangers of further delay - highlighting the uncertainty that many organisations were already experiencing because they didn't know what funds they were getting in the next financial year.

"Let me disabuse members of any idea that we can delay the budget until we have received the Treasury paper," he said.

"If that is the case, since we don't anticipate that we are going to have that paper at least until late in December, maybe early new year, we simply wouldn't have a budget for Northern Ireland. And secondly the paper, initially, is likely to be a discussion paper.

"What we have to do, and the important thing that we have to do now, is decide the budget on the basis of the money and revenue we have available to us."

He added: "The current uncertainty is causing great distress amongst those who rely on budget allocations from the Executive.

"Only this morning I heard someone from the Children's Hospice talking about the impact of the lack of knowledge for the next year and the years after that on the work of the Children's Hospice.

"Many voluntary and community groups are already wondering if they should put people on protective notice because they don't know what their budget for next year is going to be.

"A number of government departments and a number of ministers have already told me that they need to have some certainty so they can have discussions with their trusts and their boards, and the various units within their departments, as to what spending will be available to them.

"There is the political reality that if we don't get this sorted out people will take a view as to how effective the Assembly has been in this."

But Mr Wilson said he was confident a budget would be agreed in the near future.

He added: "I don't want to play up the negative aspect of this, I think that we will have a responsible attitude by all members of the Executive, all parties in this assembly, and we will get a budget established quickly."

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