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Sammy Wilson says: let’s get real over spending cuts

By Noel McAdam

Stormont finance chief Sammy Wilson has blasted the “unreality” of some ministers over spending cuts — and warned he may have to bring a final budget to the Assembly without full approval of the Executive.

Ahead of a major statement on public expenditure at the first session of the new Assembly term today, Mr Wilson insisted Stormont has no option but to implement the cuts imposed by the government.

The Finance Minister said without an agreed budget the situation would be “ungovernable” but a more immediate issue is the credibility of the parties in the Executive.

His comments came after Sinn Fein insisted the five parties sharing power at Stormont — also including Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Alliance — should join forces to resist the spending curb.

Despite an appeal for individual Ministerial bilateral talks at the end of June, Mr Wilson said he still had to hold one-to-one meetings with Health Minister Michael McGimpsey and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

And, without giving a name, he said one minister had put forward proposals which would absorb the total capital budget for the year.

“Everyone is going to feel the pinch of what is coming down the line over the next number of years,” he told the BBC Politics Show.

“We have got a problem. Let's approach it in a constructive way so that the pain — and there will be pain — is minimised for people.”

Referring to Sinn Fein Ministers as “irresponsible voices”, he said apart from those who have not even met him, others are “completely ignoring” the reality of cuts of up to 25% “and appear to have no plans to address it”.

Revealing that the current budget was not agreed until the first week of the financial year, Mr Wilson said without agreement he would have to bring a budget to the Assembly, and “if you don’t get a budget simply you are ungovernable”.

A spokesperson for Mr McGimpsey said he plans to meet with Mr Wilson today.

There was no immediate comment from Mr McGuinness but it is understood arrangements for a meeting with Peter Robinson and Mr Wilson are in hand.

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie has promised proposals in the weeks ahead to help hard-pressed families and to build the economy to deliver jobs.

“All the way through, the DUP and Sinn Fein have approached budgetary issues with carve-up and electoral considerations never far from their minds.

“We are simply not going to get through the looming crisis with that sort of approach,” she said.

“The only way to protect essential frontline services and cut waste and bureaucracy is to look at our spending in its entirety. (We have) taken this issue seriously and identified where savings could be made and examined innovative ways of raising additional funds.”

The DUP accused Ms Ritchie of hypocrisy because her successor as Social Development Minister, Alex Attwood, has yet to submit plans for cuts to Mr Wilson’s department or his scrutiny committee at Stormont, for it was suggested, tactical reasons.

Simon Hamilton, chair of the committee, said: “Who is really playing politics, Margaret? The DUP who are dealing in realism when it comes to the budget, or the SDLP who are deliberately not working with others to address the cuts that are coming our way?

“The public will see that it is the hypocrites in the SDLP who are really playing politics.”

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