UUP minister Danny Kennedy: budget cuts mean tens of thousands of broken street lights could remain off
Minister defends claim that faulty lampposts won’t be fixed due to cuts
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has denied being a "shroud waver" after warning that budget cuts to his department could mean tens of thousands of street lights could be out over winter.
The UUP minister announced that his department was to stop using external contractors as it faced a 4.4% budget shortfall of £15m.
The biggest visible effect will be that non-emergency street lighting repairs will be not carried out by external contractors.
The Department for Regional Development received over 80,000 reports of street lighting faults last year.
A quarter of the maintenance work carried out by external contractors repairing potholes, repainting carriageways and cutting grass will also be stopped.
This will mean the loss of up to £7m worth of maintenance work to external contractors throughout Northern Ireland.
Gordon Best, director of the Quarry Products Association, said: "We could be looking at 300-400 job losses at a time when the politicians and the economic indicators are telling us that the economy is recovering."
DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton accused his colleague of exaggeration and laid the blame for slashed budgets at the door of Sinn Fein and the SDLP for not agreeing to implement welfare reform cuts. He said: "I don't underestimate the pressures all ministers face but conjuring up the image of every street light being out or the country becoming a wilderness because of uncut grass is an exaggeration in the extreme."
But Mr Kennedy responded: "This is not shroud waving; it is my duty to advise the public of the precarious situation that we find ourselves and the public will see the impact."
He added: "I know and I am prepared to stand over the impact that I know that these cuts will have on front line services."
"When lights go out and are not repaired, when potholes appear and are not immediately addressed, people will see the standard of service going down."
Sinn Fein Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy accused Mr Kennedy of grandstanding over his budget, while the SDLP's John Dallat called on him to stop using scare tactics.