PwC's damning verdict on Stormont draft budget sparks sharp exchanges
A leading firm of business advisers has given Stormont's draft budget a mauling.
PwC, formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers, says that Stormont's preliminary spending plan for Northern Ireland in 2015/16 "does not really balance" and "fails to provide fundamental reform".
The budget proposals will see more than £870m cut from certain public services, with around £710m reallocated to meet other spending pressures.
The plan was agreed in October, but only the DUP and Sinn Fein supported it.
And now a war of words has broken out between Simon Hamilton's Department of Finance - which drafted the budget - and PwC.
Among the areas of concern, the PwC report points to public sector pension provision, a "lack of alignment to the Programme for Government" and the extent of cuts to the Department for Employment and Learning budget.
A spokesman for the Department of Finance said PwC's report lacked "any worthwhile insight or understanding of the complexities of public expenditure".
"The report's commentary on the draft budget shows a deficit in depth of knowledge and analysis," he said.
The department said that while the report said the draft budget was "not really balanced", it had "failed to provide evidence for such a statement".
PwC's chief economist Dr Esmond Birnie said the budget had inherited all of the legacy issues of the previous budgets for 2011 to 2015.