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DUP-Tory deal cash 'as far away as ever' as cuts loom

By Suzanne Breen

The Ulster Unionists have said money from the DUP's £1bn deal with the Tories looks "as far away as ever" as the consultation closes today on the Department of Finance's budget briefing paper.

The document, which was published last month, warns that ministers in any new Executive would have to make extensive cuts in some departments.

Health and education budgets were protected under all three scenarios laid out as part of the exercise, but cuts of between 4% and 12% are on the cards for other departments.

A 10% rise in rates, increasing university fees, and means-testing for domiciliary care were among the options considered for raising money.

UUP MLA Steve Aiken said: "Northern Ireland's finances are in a mess. The problem is, they have been for years, and despite knowing that consecutive Finance Ministers did nothing about it.

"This simply caused the situation to become gradually worse each year. Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir even missed his own timeframe to produce a budget. Northern Ireland had to endure the absurd and embarrassing spectacle of entering a new financial year without a budget even in place.

"I fear the next financial year will be no different. The budget document offers little in terms of a concrete way forward and instead appears to indicate that a new swathe of in-year financial cuts are inevitable."

Mr Aiken said the budget situation looked very gloomy. "Even with all of this, most of the DUP/Conservative money which was meant to help alleviate some of these pressures still looks as far away as ever," he added.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said the outlook made for "bleak reading" with many of the cuts proposed in all three scenarios significantly impacting on people's lives.

"We are deeply concerned that the proposals set out in the budgetary outlook have not been equality-screened and that some of the proposals have not been rural-proofed," she said.

"The SDLP will be robustly responding and making it clear that this process should be happening with an Executive - it is the responsibility of politicians to deliver a budget through government.

"To put it simply, leaving this up to unelected civil servants is a shameful dereliction of duty."

Irish Congress of Trade Unions assistant general secretary Owen Reidy described the Department of Finance document as "a missed opportunity... devoid of any creative attempts to generate real growth or income".

He said: "It continues along the lines of further cuts and tries to pass additional charges on people and business as income-general and growth, which clearly it is not.

"The overall approach is unacceptable to us."

Olivia Potter-Hughes, the president of student union body NUS-USI, was similarly highly critical of the Department of Finance paper.

"This budget document offers little other than a scorched earth vision of devastating cuts which could essentially destroy our public services, economy and tertiary education system," she said.

"One wonders whether the sole function of this document was to try and scare parties back in to devolved government here. If so, it appears not to have worked and seems only to have caused significant worry amongst people who depended on public services and on important government schemes."

Belfast Telegraph

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