Belfast Telegraph

Stormont facing £2bn deficit as it pays off 20,000 civil servants

By Noel McAdam

Stormont will be in debt to the tune of more than £2bn by next year as it pays the price of laying off 20,000 public sector workers.

Budget papers reveal the amount outstanding under the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative will be an estimated £2.1bn at the end of 2016/17 - the equivalent of more than £1,130 for every person in Northern Ireland.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said while borrowing to "kill" Civil Service jobs, the DUP and Sinn Fein had also cut funding for tourism, employment and skills and student support by £24m.

"So, we are borrowing to kill off jobs and taking away millions from exactly the sort of fund that is designed to create the skills and improve the infrastructure to increase those jobs," she told the Assembly.

New Finance Minister Mervyn Storey argued real-term reductions in funding meant confronting difficult decisions on the public sector, but it was "imperative" the reforms already under way were allowed to progress.

Mrs Hanna also accused the main two parties of "giving up" on the fight against criminals, as well as giving up on children and young people.

The attack from the SDLP came as the Assembly debated budgets for the next year, as agreed in the Fresh Start deal.

Its provisions were fast-tracked through the Assembly yesterday without the usual period of public consultation and detailed scrutiny by departmental committees.

South Belfast MLA Mrs Hanna said the situation facing prison officers and courts showed the budget had "given up" on the fight against criminality.

"Before, prison officers in Northern Ireland lived in fear of being attacked in their homes; now they live in fear of being attacked in the very prisons where they work," she said. "We rely on an effective policing service, but ours is taking a 2% cut while still addressing a lot of the manifestations of the past which the Executive have failed to deal with."

Ms Hanna told MLAs that while Northern Ireland relied on an efficient court system, this week there were 871 cases awaiting trial, representing "871 victims who have not had the opportunity to access justice".

She said the most disappointing aspect of the budget was in relation to children and young people, with youth services being slashed by 5.4% and childcare provision of 12.5 hours per week, falling well under the Government's commitment of 30 hours.

"It is a bad state of affairs when David Cameron is looking after working families better than this budget," Mrs Hanna claimed.

"We are asked to support a budget that appears to have given up, designed by First Ministers who have given in. They have basically taken by rote what has come across from the Treasury."

In his first major task as Finance Minister, Mr Storey defended the budget and said individual ministers might be able to adjust to new priorities after the next Assembly election, when the committees might also be able to influence their decisions.

"There will always be those who are prepared to stand up and say what services should be funded," he said.

"There are not so many who are prepared to listen to the reality that we have finite resources and that extra funding for one thing means less funding for another, or more taxes for everyone."

Belfast Telegraph


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