Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland business urged to 'make itself heard' on Brokenshire budget

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland business has been urged to make its voice heard to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee as it scrutinises a Budget to be passed at Westminster this week.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire yesterday published a 2017/18 Budget in the House of Commons after the main parties failed to reach an agreement to restore an Executive.

It brought an increase of spending on paper of around 3.2% - which in practice means spending is unchanged due to the impact of inflation.

But Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said the decision to impose a budget left Northern Ireland "in limbo" between devolution and direct rule. "The business community in Northern Ireland deserves better than a 'care and maintenance' administration that is unable to make the major policy decisions that impact on our economy."

And he urged the world of business to make its voice heard to MPs on the NI Affairs Committee, which is due to scrutinise the budget.

Economist Esmond Birnie of the Ulster University's economic policy centre said passing a budget was crucial to avoid departments running out of money. But he said it also reflected missed opportunities for Northern Ireland - though he said full direct rule could bring dramatic changes.

"The opportunity which an Executive would have had to align the budget process with Programme for Government priorities is missed.

"Equally, we don't (yet) have direct rule ministers being radical about revenue raising through water and other charges".

John Armstrong, the managing director of the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) said: "We do welcome the publication of the budget because it gives certainty - not just to the construction industry but also to the wider economy.

"However, we would have preferred if it had been the Northern Ireland Executive passing this budget."

James Brokenshire said he did not intend to reinstate direct rule by appointing ministers to run Stormont departments. Earlier this month, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said business appeared to have "turned its back on politics and is getting on with living, working and carving out their future in the absence of an active body politic".

Belfast Telegraph

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