The Stormont Executive has been challenged to raise its game in response to the big squeeze on public spending.
Parties from across the Assembly spectrum were united yesterday in voicing concern at the implications of Chancellor George Osborne's emergency Budget.
The challenge on the Executive's performance came from UUP finance spokesman David McNarry.
“The problem is that putting the finances right is not just about process, it is about sorting out the way the Executive works,” the Assemblyman said.
“The Executive needs to develop as a corporate body — as the Board of Directors of Northern Ireland plc, if you like. They need to start to function in the general public interest.”
Alliance MLA and spokesman Stephen Farry said the Executive should stop “ducking” an “inevitable decision” on the introduction of water charges.
He added: “The continued deferral of water charges creates a major distortion in our expenditure profile and requires much greater pain in key public services such as health and education than would be faced by our counterparts in neighbouring jurisdictions.”
Sinn Féin economic spokesman Mitchel McLaughlin said: “British Chancellors take no particular account of the impact of financial decisions on the ability of the Executive to invest in economic recovery here.
“And without the ability to raise finance through measures such as tax-varying or borrowing powers, we have no choice but to manage the cuts to our steadily reducing budget imposed by London.”
DUP deputy leader and former Finance Minister Nigel Dodds stated: “There are few concrete proposals to help with the rebalancing of the Northern Ireland economy.
“It is welcome news that the Treasury is investigating proposals surrounding Corporation Tax and an enterprise zone. However, at this stage we really need action.”
SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie stated: “Nearly all of the burden is falling on the shoulders of public sector workers.”
She also said: “We are promised some vague initiative in the autumn which will attempt to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy but in the meantime we face cuts, job losses and increasing hardship for many of our most vulnerable households.
“The SDLP will strive to ensure that the impact of this Budget is minimised in the North.”
Hamish McRae: The mountain we all have to climb just got steeper
This was indeed the toughest Budget since the Second World War. The Chancellor announced a total fiscal tightening – including the cuts and tax hikes announced by his Labour predecessors – of £120bn by 2015, according to some estimates.