The Alliance Party has called on the SDLP to quit the Executive if it can’t support the Budget, as political wrangling over spending plans reaches crisis point.
The exchange came ahead of a lengthy Assembly debate which got under way more than an hour late yesterday, with an SDLP attempt to challenge a technical vote to implement the provisions of the Budget.
SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said the draft Budget was “seriously flawed” and new plans were needed for job creation with resources diverted towards health, education and employment and learning.
“The draft Budget at least means people now have some idea of what the future holds,” she said.
“But there are fundamental deficiencies we must put right.
“It is largely an application of the £4bn cuts handed down by the coalition Government. We believe we can mitigate the cuts.
“There is no plan to generate jobs in the short-term and get the economy moving.
“We have put forward ideas which would see the sale of Department for Regional Development car parks and other assets which have a revenue stream.
“We should not be dogmatic about the transfer of Belfast port, we should consider the mutualisation of Northern Ireland Water and there must be more investment in the tourism and construction sectors.”
Alliance Party finance spokesman Stephen Farry then challenged the SDLP to quit the Executive if it could not support the draft Budget. He accused the SDLP of “gesture” politics after it sought to amend the motion by the Finance Minister.
Mr Farry said the only “honest and coherent” approach for the SDLP is to leave the Executive.
The UUP had already indicated it would not support the SDLP’s amendment.
The debate continued into the night with no resolution in sight.
Members were nonetheless preparing to support the technical ‘vote on account’ motion which assures a continuity of funding for Government departments and the payment of civil servants’ salaries without interruption.
Earlier Finance Minister Sammy Wilson rounded on business leaders who have slammed the Budget as “too timid”.
The DUP man said he had “steam coming out of his ears” when he heard local business pundits argue the Executive should switch current cash reserves into capital, which have been slashed by 40%. Mr Wilson told the Assembly: “They can’t have it all ways. It is very easy for the armchair critics when all they can suggest is spending, not how to |reallocate resources.”
Meanwhile, the Stop the Cuts Campaign, which involves various trade unions including the Irish National Teachers Organisation and the Fire Brigades Union, rejected the draft Budget and accused the five parties in the Executive of taking “a political decision to stand together with the Tory/ Lib Dem coalition Government in implementing savage cuts against ordinary people”.
Their submission went on: “Those who claim to oppose cuts to public services must refuse to implement cuts and oppose this draft Budget.
“Big business and rich individuals are allowed to get away with evading approximately £120bn in taxes every year. An extra £4.7bn could be raised immediately by |introducing a 50% tax rate on |incomes over £100,000.”