Belfast Telegraph

MLAs pass £8bn 'fantasy' budget despite our £604m black hole

By Liam Clarke

The Assembly will spend more than £8bn in the next tax year - £604m more than it has.

The gap was pointed out by TUV leader Jim Allister, who tried to reduce that figure to £7.4bn.

"There is nothing funny about a Finance Minister coming to the House and putting before us a pretend budget and pretend estimates; pretending that she has and will have all the money anticipated in the 2015-16 Budget Bill; pretending that we have not had the reneging on welfare reform; pretending that we do not have a £604 million black hole in our budgetary arrangements; and pretending that we can simply carry on as if none of that had ever happened," Mr Allister said.

But his amendment was defeated and the motion passed as the only way to keep spending going.

The budget assumes that welfare reform legislation, which Sinn Fein and the SDLP are blocking because of the negative effect on claimants, has been passed.

Barring a U-turn by Sinn Fein there is little prospect of that happening unless the Bill is passed by Westminster over MLAs' heads.

In that case Sinn Fein has hinted it would quit the Executive rather than implement the cuts that would be necessary.

DUP Finance Minister Arlene Foster spelt out the outlook.

"We are in an environment of increasingly scarce resources and the immediate public expenditure outlook is not a positive one," she said. "The latest Office for Budget Responsibility projections for the UK as a whole suggests that further resource reductions are to come in the next few years with a 9% reduction in cash terms between now and the 2018-19 financial year."

While the DUP's attitude is that we must adjust budgets, Sinn Fein favours all parties pressing Westminster for more money.

Belfast Telegraph


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