Editor's Viewpoint: Neglecting the arts just doesn't cut it
The £580m investment in roads and hospitals announced by the Executive is certainly good news for the beleaguered construction industry, safeguarding existing jobs and hopefully creating some more.
Coming at a time when other sectors are shedding workers - particularly retailing and service industries - this cash injection will help to offset some of that impact. The investment will enable some necessary capital projects such as the new Omagh hospital and upgrading of the Ulster and Altnagelvin Hospitals, to be carried out sooner than anticipated.
The improvements to the A5 route between Londonderry and Strabane and Omagh and Ballygawley will undoubtedly be welcomed by the construction industry, even if others are less certain of its value. However as a job creation scheme it is of importance and along with the Belfast-Larne and Belfast-Carrickfergus roads upgrade the investment will improve these well used arterial routes.
The investment package shows that the Executive is keen to respond to local need and to alleviate, where possible, the austerity brought about by the global financial crisis. That makes the decision of Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland to withdraw the vital Laganside events arts grants all the more baffling. The sum involved - some £300,000 - is relatively small given the size of the public purse and the decision smacks more of a disregard for the arts than a meaningful prudent husbandry of scarce resources.
The arts culture which has grown up around the general Laganside area of Belfast has contributed much to the gaiety of the city as well as its economy. It is ironic that next year will see Londonderry become the first UK City of Culture while Belfast will simultaneously be shorn of some of its cultural vibrancy. The arts should not be seen as a luxury activity to be thrown aside when times get tough, but as part of the fabric of society and an attraction to visitors. Surely the Executive can persuade Mr McCausland to reverse his decision.