Belfast Telegraph

Simon Hamilton and Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan in war of words over effects of austerity

By Joanne Sweeney

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has hit back strongly over claims that politicians are not being honest about how much budget cuts will impact on public services.

Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan yesterday criticised the lack of fiscal strategy to deal with austerity measures.

In a Radio Ulster interview, she also accused politicians of being "disingenuous" when telling the public that public services would not be affected.

Ms McGowan further told the Belfast Telegraph last night: "Perhaps if the Executive had produced a realistic and detailed fiscal plan for the local economy last month, then they might have been able to negotiate a much better deal during the Stormont House Agreement talks."

However, the DUP minister angrily turned the comments back onto the banking chief and said: "The irony of being lectured on honesty and a lack of a strategy by someone working in the banking sector will escape no one."

He said that he never tried to hide the fact that Northern Ireland was heading into tough times and that the public sector would change as a result.

While describing how Northern Ireland was "heading for a budgetary cliff", he said that his party had achieved the goal of proceeding with welfare reform just before Christmas.

"Whilst the Government did not give any more money for welfare reform, we have secured flexibility from Westminster to allow us to restructure the civil service and rebalance our economy through the devolution of corporation tax," he said.

"Our programme for reducing the size of the public sector, which HM Government's financial package enables, will rebalance our economy and assist the Executive to live within its means," Mr Hamilton said.

However, Ms McGowan told the Inside Business programme: "The politicians continually shy away from decisions that need to be made. It's being disingenuous to tell us public services will not be impacted."

Alliance Party leader and Justice Minister David Ford said he broadly agreed with Ms McGowan's comments. "I'm not sure that people have fully realised the depths these cuts will have on core public services," he said.

"There certainly has been an attempt on some people's part to suggest that these impacts don't really matter or that the cuts will not be at the level they are going to be."

Economist John Simpson said that he agreed that a "much clearer statement on the line of action" needed to be provided, but disagreed that the Executive were being dishonest.

"I'm not saying that they are dishonest but the ministers and Executive could give a much clearer picture," he said.

Mr Simpson added: "They need to get a move on. There is pain to come but we have to realise collectively that it's necessary because we have been living in a fool's paradise."

Profile

Angela McGowan has been chief economist for Danske Bank in Northern Ireland for nearly three years, having worked in the same role from 2008 for the bank previously known as the Northern. She was the first woman to take up such a high-level appointment in the banking sector here. She recently downgraded her growth forecast for the Northern Ireland economy for 2015 from 2.3% to 2.1%.

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