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Paying price of financial lunacy

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 29/04/2015

During the current election campaign, practically every party is promising the Northern Ireland electorate that they will demand more money from whoever forms the next government at Westminster
During the current election campaign, practically every party is promising the Northern Ireland electorate that they will demand more money from whoever forms the next government at Westminster

During the current election campaign, practically every party is promising the Northern Ireland electorate that they will demand more money from whoever forms the next government at Westminster. Their pleas might get very short shrift, given the Stormont administration's financial track record.

It was only last December that Westminster agreed to bail out Stormont to the tune of £2bn, mostly in loans, after Northern Ireland came to the brink of going bankrupt. That was due in no small part to financial mismanagement locally and not simply austerity measures imposed from London.

Yet the waste of public funds goes on apace. Today this newspaper reveals how the province's costliest road project has already eaten up £70m from the public purse, even though a court ruling means that it is stalled for the foreseeable future. Some £15m of that money has been spent since the court ruling in 2013. Incredibly, this expenditure is going ahead at the same time as Roads Minister Danny Kennedy complains that he doesn't have the money to fix broken street lights or potholes.

But there are plenty of other examples. The police, fire and prison service training centre at Desertcreat in Tyrone, first proposed in 2004, is now unlikely ever to be built. Millions of pounds have already been spent on preparatory and design work and the projected building costs have soared by around £50m since the initial estimate.

It is also accepted that the Stormont administration is too bloated, with 108 MLAs and huge staffing levels. At one stage in 2012 it was revealed that there were 161 people working in information services alone. Further wastage has come in the insistence of printing some publications and advertisements in English, Irish and/or Ulster-Scots, more to satisfy party dogma than of linguistic necessity.

The priority at Stormont should be to eradicate waste as far as possible. Vital departments like health, education and job creation are crying out for additional funding and some 20,000 public sector jobs are being axed to save money in the longer term.

Yet bickering over funding continues at Stormont. Sinn Fein is demanding that welfare reform will not mean reducing the benefits of existing, and, astonishingly, future claimants. It is yet another example of financial lunacy at the heart of government here.

Belfast Telegraph

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