Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

United front by all the only way to economic recovery

We need to inspire confidence if we are to build a better future for Northern Ireland, argues Sammy Wilson

When I informed the Assembly of the outcome of the January monitoring round earlier this week, I was surprised at the reaction from some quarters. Before I expand on that, it is important to outline the strategic context for this monitoring round.

The monitoring round was the last opportunity for the Executive to reallocate any unused resources in this financial year.

This year, ministers had, for the first time since the restoration of devolution, to deal with managing budget reductions as a result of the coalition's cuts at Westminster.

In fact, these budget pressures are set to continue over the next three years. That is why we negotiated a deal with the Treasury to now carry savings from one year to the next. This enables us to meet urgent demands, such as those in education.

It is also important to point out that the Executive has been faced with an extremely challenging economic situation, caused by events beyond our control. That is not an excuse, but a simple fact.

Against that background, I want to stress that ministers across all departments have worked incredibly hard to protect frontline services and public sector jobs.

Administrative expenditure has so far reduced by 3.8% on average, which is clear evidence that frontline service delivery is increasingly being prioritised. Importantly, this reduction has been achieved without one compulsory redundancy within the Civil Service.

The Executive has reallocated some £136m in this financial year through the monitoring rounds.

Expenditure on roads' maintenance will now be at the highest level on record; our Employment Service has benefitted from significant additional allocations, helping those who have been made unemployed to get back into work.

Resources have been put into helping first-time buyers through co-ownership, enabling low-income earners to be able to purchase their first home and still save money.

We have provided pensioners with £100-per-household to help pay their fuel bills; and we have provided additional money for schools and hospitals.

The Executive's overarching priority remains promoting economic recovery and protecting frontline services. We continue to do everything we can to promote growth and build confidence in our future.

The reallocations made in this financial year have already provided a significant boost for our construction sector and frontline public services. I have no doubt that all ministers remain fully committed to delivering on our key goals.

I am, therefore, incredibly frustrated when I hear some trade union representatives scaremongering about large-scale public sector job-losses here. These claims are made from a very narrow, self-serving viewpoint. Such wildly inaccurate and dubious claims will do nothing to help us emerge from an incredibly difficult economic climate.

In fact, it will undermine consumer confidence and harm our local businesses. The behaviour of these trade unions is, therefore, counterproductive and damaging to the prospects of our economy.

What we need is all aspects of Northern Ireland to work together towards economic recovery. I know that my Executive colleagues are fully committed to that.

I also know ministers work hard to transform public service delivery. As an Executive, we have and will continue to lobby at Westminster for additional resources and for changes to help stimulate and rebalance the economy.

We need our trade unions and all other sections of our society to work with us in a constructive manner.

Only then can we pull our economy out of the current difficulties, inspire confidence and look forward to a positive future.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk