Belfast Telegraph

Stormont minister defends record

A Stormont minister has rejected claims he is running his department's finances like Oliver Twist as the Assembly passed a motion of no confidence.

Ulster Unionist Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy was responding to criticism levelled by members of his scrutiny committee.

The committee tabled the non-binding motion expressing its lack of confidence in how the department's budget is being run.

One of the main concerns flagged by members was what they claimed was an over-reliance by DRD on making in-year pitches for extra funding during the Executive's monitoring round process.

DUP committee chair Trevor Clarke portrayed the approach as "Oliver Twist - Can I have more?".

"It is a successful tactic whenever the coffers are overflowing but, as the minister is now finding out, whenever the purse strings are snapped shut, it is a foolhardy approach to budgeting," he said.

The motion also expressed concern over the financial health of public transport company Translink; the threat of huge EU fines due to lack of investment in waste water treatment plants; and the risk of a departmental over-spend this financial year.

But Mr Kennedy robustly defended his and his department's record and accused committee members of failing to face up to the reality of the cuts he was being forced to absorb by the Executive.

Referring to Mr Clarke's Dickensian characterisation, he responded: "I might return the compliment by describing the chair as the artful dodger because he seems to be dodging some of the financial issues that confront the committee and indeed me and my department."

Mr Kennedy claimed it was the Executive that had decided his department should rely on monitoring round funds to bolster its base-line budget.

He also contrasted the DUP's plans to propose a partially unfunded "fantasy" Executive budget to the Assembly next week to his efforts to manage real money.

"I would argue the committee's problem is not that I cannot manage my budget but it doesn't like the consequences of the reduced allocations to DRD and some people seek to conveniently ignore those harsh financial facts," he said.

"I don't like those facts either but governing is about making decisions and standing over them, not cynical political grandstanding."

He added: "Those who will no doubt support the fantasy budget next week are criticising those who are endeavouring to live within budget this week."

The motion expressing no confidence in the DRD passed by 67 votes to 13.


From Belfast Telegraph