Belfast Telegraph

Stormont must spend responsibly

By Mohammed Samaana

Many people were shocked by Queen's University's decision to stop funding the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's due to cuts to its own budget.

The festival relies on Queen's for 13% of its income. We can't, however, blame Queen's - especially when a number of its own staff are expected to lose their jobs as a result of the cuts.

Considering that Queen's contribution to the festival is £129,000, I'm sure there was enough money in the 2015 budget to solve the festival problem. After all, when a seagull stole the ham from the Prime Minister's sandwich, the Chancellor was able to allocate £250,000 for research to find a solution to "urban seagull aggression".

This year's Budget, however, is not about saving the Belfast Festival at Queen's, or saving jobs at the university (or elsewhere): it is about saving the Conservative Party, by bribing voters to back the Tories before yet more austerity measures are implemented after the May election.

Instead of making homes affordable by building more houses, the Chancellor decided to bribe first-time buyers with help-to-buy ISAs; instead of helping those with alcohol problems (and, therefore, the NHS) by taxing alcohol, he decided to inflict more misery on them.

For beer, he cut the duty by one penny for a pint for the third running year. For cider and spirits, he cut the duty by 2%, while he froze the duty on wine.

Bearing in mind that alcohol-related health and social problems cost the UK economy around £12bn and Northern Ireland's economy up to £881.1m a year, perhaps the alcohol industry, which benefits from the Budget, should contribute more to the festival - especially when the festival brings out more people to socialise in Belfast.

Stormont can play its part, too, through sensible long- term planning. According to the Audit Office, public sector projects handed over to private businesses to run (via the Private Finance Initiative) will cost the Assembly about £250m a year until 2030.

More responsible spending of taxpayers' money by politicians could have solved a lot of our financial problems.

Mohammed Samaana is a Belfast-based writer and commentator

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