Peter Robinson: We can expect no favours from the Chancellor
First Minister Peter Robinson believes Northern Ireland is already in recession and that its downturn will be prolonged by “deep cuts” imposed from Westminster.
He also warned that the province is unlikely to get any special treatment from the Cameron Government on its public spending share.
But he held out some hope of new measures to boost the private sector, and criticised Sinn Fein's approach to cuts as “somewhat confused”.
Mr Robinson last week voiced fears that up to £2bn could be slashed from budgets here, as part of UK-wide public spending cutbacks. The actual extent of the cuts will be known next month when Chancellor George Osborne announces his spending review.
The DUP First Minister told the Belfast Telegraph it was “very unlikely” that Northern Ireland will be treated “in any way separate from the Barnett Formula” when it came to its public spending allocations. The Barnett Formula is the Government mechanism for calculating public expenditure share-outs for devolved regions.
Mr Robinson continued: “There will be a formulaic approach to what our portion of the overall budget will be, so the spending review will deal with this in terms of the Barnett Formula full stop.
“However, there is room, in my view, for us to be able to talk to Government as to how we stimulate the private sector in Northern Ireland and the extent to which they will contribute towards doing that. I think there are two separate exercises and I think Sinn Fein are somewhat confused.”
Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin last week called for resistance to spending reductions and claimed preparing for cuts amounted to “rolling over”.
Mr Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph: “I have no argument with Sinn Fein in terms of I believe it should have been a much more gradual process of cuts.
“I have no argument with them in terms of we should be pushing the Exchequer and the Prime Minister to get the best possible deal for Northern Ireland. What I believe is that you don't go unprepared into these circumstances. You need to have the necessary work done and you need to show you are prepared to play your part if you are wanting to convince the Treasury that they should be helping us to stimulate our private sector.”
The First Minister also stated: “We are teetering on the brink — still in recession in my view.
“I think we lag behind the rest of the United Kingdom. Deep cuts, I think, will prolong the period of time when we are in that recession and endanger our recovery.”