Belfast Telegraph

Time to cut waste and ministers' wages, says Peter Robinson

The Executive faces tough choices in the draft four-year budget. A tap tax and the scrapping of free prescriptions are not the answer - slashing needless costs is, argues the First Minister

By Peter Robinson

In the next few weeks, the Northern Ireland Executive will have the responsibility to agree a draft four-year budget. In the present economic conditions, with the reduction in the block grant, that will be a formidable task.

The Coalition Government's failure to honour previous political commitments will make an already difficult position even more challenging.

We will continue to fight for the interests of our people and make the case to the Government for a fair deal for Northern Ireland, but we need to face up to the fact that there will be reductions in public expenditure.

We must approach this task responsibly and seek to limit the impact of any cuts that are coming.

We were elected to make choices and take decisions and we must do so.

It is far better that these decisions are taken by locally-elected people, who understand the problems that are being faced, rather than by those who do not understand our needs and our priorities.

We do not determine our budget allocation from Westminster, but we do take decisions in relation to how that money is spent.

Our job is to make the right choices and to limit the impact on families and households.

I want to see us delivering public services more efficiently and effectively, rather than asking working people to pay more.

Because of this, I believe that no household should face an above-inflation increase in their rates simply to top up the Northern Ireland Executive's budget.

In addition, we should continue to defer the introduction of any water charges and instead look to cut back on waste and bureaucracy across Government.

We will continue to protect the householder from ever-greater bills that would have been inevitable under direct rule.

In my own department, this process has already begun and in the last year we have reduced the headcount by 50, or by around 20%.

These people have now been deployed to other parts of the civil service where the need is greater.

That is a demonstration of what can be done where there is a determination and focus on cutting back on bureaucracy.

In this regard, ministers should take the lead by voluntarily giving up 5% to 10% of their ministerial salaries.

While this will not make a significant financial contribution, it is an important gesture to make in these difficult economic times.

While there are undoubtedly pressures on the budget in the years ahead, we must not allow the progress that we have made in certain areas to be reversed.

That is why I do not believe that we should turn the clock back in areas such as free prescriptions and free travel for senior citizens.

Growing the economy will be a critical aspect of the next four years and ensuring that we assist the private sector. Our budget allocations should reflect this.

Another key goal of the budget process will be to protect jobs in the public sector.

As around half of our total budget is spent on salaries, this will be a challenging task.

But I believe that our greater priority should be on keeping jobs rather than increasing salaries.

Before any cuts are considered, we must reduce waste, cut back on red tape and make sure that no money is wasted. As part of the budget, we will seek to protect frontline services in areas such as health, education and policing, but waste can be found right across the public sector.

We do not want to take decisions which would lock in waste for years to come. No area can be entirely immune from efficiencies, but the Executive will want to reflect the people's priorities when agreeing the budget.

The next few years will not be easy, but I am confident that - if we take the right decisions in the next weeks - we can lay the foundations for a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland.

This is an opportunity for the Northern Ireland Executive to demonstrate how we can make a real difference to the lives of people in Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Telegraph wants to hear from you

With public funding coming under massive pressure, the call is going out to people to flag up inefficient practices where they work and live.

That applies to public sector employees and the many hundreds of thousands who use public services on a daily basis.

Instances of waste in the private sector are also very much welcomed.

Reporting cases could not be easier — just complete the form below to make your point.

War in Waste is not a criticism of Government employees: ensuring proper use of public money benefits them too.

Private sector businesses have much to lose from the cutbacks as well, including those boosted by the spending power of public employees, and those who provide goods and services to Government bodies.

This is why “War on Waste” is so important, as many hard-pressed organisations are going to have to make every penny count.

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