Belfast Telegraph

Anger over ditherers as Budget row continues

By Noel McAdam

Tensions over Northern Ireland’s Budget are increasing at Stormont with some departments being accused of treating the public “with contempt”.

As the Belfast Telegraph reported yesterday, only half of the 12 departments have so far published their spending and savings plans, even though they were all expected to do so just before Christmas.

It means people and organisations will have less than half the planned consultation time over the four-year Budget covering the next Assembly term.

And it is not likely the deadline for comments on the plans — Wednesday, February 9 — will be extended, sources said yesterday.

Most major initiatives and pieces of legislation are put out for a 12-week ‘comeback’ period but the Executive’s share-out just before Christmas slashed the consultation ‘window’ to eight weeks.

But now, with six departmental blueprints still awaited, that has been further reduced to four weeks, even if the remainder are published in the next few days.

Alliance finance spokesman Stephen Farry said unless the departments which have still be make their plans public do so “forthwith” they will be treating the public “with contempt”.

“There is a very tight timetable for the formal adoption of a Budget and the passage of the first Budget Bill before the start of the next financial year. Notions of extending this consultation period due to meet the slackness of certain departments are fanciful,” the North Down MLA said.

Meanwhile it emerged yesterday Mr Wilson gave a misleading figure in a written Assembly answer when he said a 7% increase in health cash spending compared to 3.5% in Scotland. The Scottish figure should have been 0.35%.

An internal briefing document also said the minister gave a misleading impression by comparing a cash increase to a budget increase in real terms. Mr Wilson will send a correction note to MLAs.

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