Belfast Telegraph

Reduced public transport, broken street lights, longer hospital waiting lists, the reality is we are all going to suffer unless we sort this mess

By Liam Clarke

It may seem unlikely, but if Sinn Fein got its way on welfare reform and Stormont somehow survived, then the reality is we would all suffer.

We already face years of cuts because of the borrowing which the Executive has racked up rather than take unpopular decisions.

Public transport frequency is being decreased, fares are going up, street lights aren't being fixed, our universities are suffering and there are trolley waits in our wards. There are no easy economies left.

Yet failure to introduce welfare reform, or making sure our claimants are being paid under the old system which is being phased out, will add another £400m to our deficit.

Without it our whole budget, which is complex and interlocking, will quickly fall apart.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton laid out the serious implications when he said: "We are reaching a crunch point in June if we don't meet it beforehand. Then we have to pass through a Budget Bill to legally allocate the departments, our Budget is contingent on all those things I have mentioned and if we are not allowed to do all those things by Treasury then we are in very serious trouble."

If civil servants step in to prevent departments overspending, as they are obliged to do, then budgets would be top-sliced giving ministers a chance to decide where the axe should fall.

It is hard to predict what it will mean but the outcome is that we will get less than before out of nearly everything that we depend on the state for.

Hospital waiting lists will only get longer, more school maintenance will be slashed and public transport could face further route restrictions.

After a while there would need to be revenue raising. Perhaps water rates, we are the only place in Britain or Ireland without them and many of our homes have the meters installed. That would nearly pay for welfare reform. Or we could raise rates to business, putting pressure on our town centres or we could raise rates on householders.

None of this is ever mentioned by Sinn Fein as a possibility, in fact they have claimed that they were the ones who stopped water rates and pledged to continue vetoing them north and south. "There will be serious implications for other departmental budgets as well as devolution itself, if the Welfare Bill is not progressed," Nigel Dodds of the DUP said after questioning the Secretary of State.

"Paragraph 8 of the Stormont House Agreement explicitly tied the progress of the Welfare Bill to the progress of the corporation tax legislation in the House of Commons,"

That means we can't attract American investors with the promise of a tax cut.

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