Cuts sweetened by £1bn new revenue
Northern Ireland political leaders have started selling a draft budget of £4 billion in spending cuts with the promise of more than £1 billion in new revenue to help ease the pain.
The deal hammered out after weeks of negotiations at Stormont ended with late-night talks that saw the DUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance back the plan. The Ulster Unionists and nationalist SDLP abstained.
First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness hailed the package, which includes £540 million raised by selling public assets, £150 million from an inflationary increase on rates, £16 million from a levy on plastic bags and £80 million from housing association assets.
Mr Robinson said specific investments contained in the proposal would create at least 10,000 jobs in the region.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson told the Northern Ireland Assembly that, in agreeing a four-year budget which was forced by central Government's hard-hitting spending review, the Executive had "come of age", with a package he signalled would protect the most vulnerable and help ensure economic growth.
Mr Wilson said: "We have proved that we can take difficult decisions, we have proved we can reach agreement. We have proved we can work together for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland."
The ideas for new revenue account for an estimated 20-25% of the plan, with 75-80% made up of cuts aimed at managing the Executive's reduced pot of money.
His DUP colleague Mr Robinson hailed the blueprint as a "first-class budget".
He said: "This is the Northern Ireland Executive doing what it was elected to do, taking decisions, no matter how hard, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland."
But with the plans due to go out for public consultation, Sinn Fein's Mr McGuinness accused the Ulster Unionists and SDLP of adopting a "wait-and-see" attitude which lacked leadership.