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£2bn cuts on the way, says Sammy Wilson

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has conceded that public-sector job losses are inevitable in Northern Ireland as a result of the looming £2bn major squeeze on Government spending.

Mr Wilson also confirmed that he and his officials are expecting severe expenditure cuts over a four-year period.

The £2bn estimate was first made public late last month in the Belfast Telegraph by Seamus McAleavey from voluntary sector body NICVA.

Mr Wilson yesterday said the £2bn figure would involve “fairly massive reductions” and was anticipated on the basis of discussions with the London Treasury.

“We are not being told that they think those figures are wrong,” he said. The Minister said an estimate for future job losses due to the spending cuts could not be given, as the total would depend on where the cuts are made in the public spending.

“There are bound to be job losses,” he said.

Mr Wilson also said of the Treasury's attitude: “There's no sympathy for Northern Ireland saying we're such a basket case or we're in such difficult circumstances that we must be exempted from this.”

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The official cutbacks total will not be known until October 20, when Tory Chancellor George Osborne announces his spending review.

Mr Wilson yesterday gave a breakdown of figures for the £2bn assumption.

It includes a reduction of over 10% in current Executive spending on services over four years, adding up to some £1.5bn.

In addition, the capital pot that includes development projects like road, school and hospital building is expected to be slashed by more than 30%.

That would bring it down from its current level of £1.7bn this year to £1.2bn.

Mr Wilson poured scorn on the idea of the Executive refusing to set a cuts-hit budget for 2011/12 until after next May's Assembly election.

He said this would mean a new budget would not be in place until November or December next year.

Mr Wilson added: “Are you really saying that you'll allow departments to spend on the basis of this year's expenditure and then impose all of those reductions in the last three months of the financial year?

“It would be an absolute impossibility.”

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