Belfast Telegraph

Hamilton warns of tighter spending

Public spending budgets could be tight for more than five years, the new Finance Minister has warned.

Tough times lie ahead and with demands - such as an ageing population - competing for fewer resources, Simon Hamilton said more needs to be done for less.

He told business leaders in Belfast that reform is essential. "The spending round for 2015/16 may have been more encouraging than we might have imagined but the prospect of tightening budgets up to 2018 and possibly beyond still exists," he said.

"Coupled with the ever-increasing expectations of an understandably demanding public, it is clear that tough times lie ahead. Meeting those demands with ever fewer resources will be the underlying context of my time in DFP (Department of Finance and Personnel).

"The people of Northern Ireland won't accept, and nor do they deserve, less with less. They deserve more with less. That's all very easy to say but far harder to deliver."

Mr Hamilton, who took over from Sammy Wilson at Finance this week, said the answer lies in the relentless pursuit of reform.

"The challenge of less public spending together with looming long-term tests, like an aging population, means that reform isn't something we can set aside, ignore and hope it isn't needed," the Democratic Unionist Strangford MLA said.

"This is the single biggest challenge Northern Ireland faces in the next decade and it's a challenge we can't resist, it's one we must embrace. For failure to reform in a way we choose and at a time of our choosing will see change forced upon us through circumstances."

He is to create a public sector reform division within his Department, working with other departments to stimulate innovation in the delivery and sharing of services and in the use of public expenditure.

"I want to make it clear that I don't see this as a matter of DFP dictating how departments should reform. I see the Department of Finance and Personnel as an enabler; as a facilitator; as a partner that provides support, assistance and, where appropriate, funding to make reform happen," he added.

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