Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Sinn Fein 'block cash transparency'

Sammy Wilson called on Sinn Fein ministers to boost transparency

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has accused Sinn Fein of blocking measures to improve transparency on public expenditure during heated exchanges at the Assembly.

The senior DUP figure claimed education minister John O'Dowd was giving more information to the Treasury in London than Stormont MLAs.

He also alleged Mr O'Dowd had failed to adequately progress a review of how students are encouraged to stay in education and said a broader rethink of whether public financial processes can be made clearer had been awaiting Executive clearance for several months.

DUP leader Peter Robinson has launched a series of broadsides recently against his republican partners in Government, claiming fear of the SDLP had paralysed decision-making in the Executive.

Mr Wilson told the Assembly: "I do think that when people want transparency, we are prepared to give them transparency. If there is a road block to it, it is my duty as a minister to say where this roadblock lies. It does not lie with my department."

He said he was frustrated more progress had not been made, but denied he had any problem personally with any minister. Mr Wilson added: "The difficulty has been with the education minister who, ironically, will give that information to the Treasury in London before he will give it to this Assembly."

He said: "I am concerned that because of the inability, and this is due mainly to Sinn Fein, to get this (financial processes review) through the Executive we still do not have the transparency which the Assembly would have wished."

Separately, he said pressure on the budget of £3.5 million was created by the failure to progress the review of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, which is considering whether payments to encourage students in their late teens to stay on in education are working, and to fund salary pressures for the assembly ombudsman, the comptroller and auditor general, lands tribunal and judicial salaries.

Mr Wilson said he was particularly disappointed that the EMA review, launched for public consultation in July, had not made more headway. "The education minister has not progressed this despite the fact it was something which was endorsed with the executive," he said.

Mr O'Dowd said: "The key reason why I have blocked it is, there is a clause in it meaning if I transferred more money between spending branches of my department I have to get permission from DFP. That is to do with DFP control of my department. I am the minister of the Department for Education, I will make the decisions in my department."

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