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Local leaders plan to meet Cameron over spending review

Northern Ireland political leaders hope to meet Prime Minister David Cameron over their claims they were short-changed in the Chancellor's Spending Review.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness again dismissed Government pledges it was on-track to fulfil agreements for £18 billion to be spent on infrastructure projects in the region by 2017.

He also told the Assembly that talks are continuing between Stormont parties on agreeing a new budget in the wake of the Westminster cuts.

Despite First Minister Peter Robinson calling for a budget deal within the next two weeks, the deputy First Minister said the talks would continue until the best deal was achieved.

But Mr McGuinness said the Government must clarify its position.

The Sinn Fein representative claimed Treasury officials had provided figures which challenged Government claims that it was upholding investment pledges made in the 2006 St Andrews deal that paved the way for the power-sharing Assembly.

Mr McGuinness said: "We have had a few wobbles in the process where it became clear at a very early stage that there seemed to be some difference of opinion between Treasury officials and those in political leadership, namely (Secretary of State) Owen Paterson and the British Prime Minister."

He said Assembly ministers wanted to see the promised Westminster paper on creating an enterprise zone in Northern Ireland and cutting the region's corporation tax to match the Republic of Ireland's 12.5% figure.

"It's a work in progress but we are very much at the mercy of what comes from London and we await the outcome of what hopefully will be a positive result for us," said Mr McGuinness.

"The First Minister and I wrote to the Prime Minister on October 20 to ask for an urgent meeting to discuss the details of the Spending Review, and we are hopeful a meeting will take place very shortly."

He added: "We have made it clear (we will) pursue this matter, if necessary through the mechanism available to us under the memorandum of understanding."

And despite a call by First Minister Peter Robinson for a draft budget to be agreed by December 15, Mr McGuinness said his priority was to "get the budget right". He said it would not simply be an exercise in imposing Westminster cuts.

"This is about a 'budget - plus'," said the Sinn Fein member.

"And it's about examining what other revenue-raising streams are there, that can allow us to deal with what would be a very serious impact on our budget, the fact that the present coalition Government in London have reneged on the commitments made by a previous administration in relation to the capital building programme, for which we have big plans over the course of the coming years."

He added: "Essentially what we are trying to do is ensure we get the budget right. And if it takes time to get the budget right, then so be it."

Asked if Finance Minister Sammy Wilson had been "sidelined" and budget talks were being led by Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson, the deputy First Minister said he hoped all ministers were working together to deliver an agreed way forward.

Belfast Telegraph


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