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Sammy Wilson: Northern Ireland could be left stuck in recession

Finance Minister fears Ulster could miss out on growth

By David Gordon

Stormont Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has voiced Northern Ireland recession worries during the Commons debate on George Osborne's Budget.

Mr Wilson also issued a plea for more information on spending cuts heading for Stormont.

The DUP MP and MLA warned in Parliament that Executive ministers have been “planning in a vacuum” due to the lack of detail on future funding.

The cuts facing Stormont budgets from 2011 will not be known until October.

Mr Wilson told the Commons yesterday: “We have been told that there will be a 25% cut in departmental expenditure limits over the next four years, but that it will not apply evenly and some departments and areas of Government spending will be hit more than others.

“In Northern Ireland, we have now started the budget process. Because of the neglect of the previous Government, there was no comprehensive spending review announcement for the previous year, so we are planning in a vacuum.

“It is important that information be made available quickly to regional Assemblies as to what the impact on their departmental expenditure limits is likely to be, so that effective planning can take place.”

Expressing concerns about the prospects for the province's economy, Mr Wilson said: “I am always reluctant to plead special cases, but one has to consider where Northern Ireland is in the economic cycle.

“We lag behind, as we are still in the downward part of the cycle. All the available indices, whether of output, employment, forward orders, investment or whatever else, show that we are still on the downward slide in the cycle.

“Our concern is about the impact that the attempts to restructure the economy could have, and the fact that while growth might occur in the rest of the United Kingdom, we might find ourselves still stuck in a recession because of the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Wilson also stated: “We are promised a report in the autumn on how Northern Ireland's economy might be rebalanced, including an examination of proposals on economic enterprise zones, a possible mechanism for changing corporation tax rates, and other economic reform options.

“I look forward to that paper, and I am sure that the Northern Ireland Executive will do so too, but I note that that paper is merely examining options and proposals.”

Highlighting the impact of public expenditure cuts, he added: “We will look to see how quickly the impact of the reductions in public spending is offset by some of the proposals in the promised paper on rebalancing the economy.

“This is important to us, and we want to drive it forward, but it will be made more difficult by some of today's announcements.”

In Focus: Key Budget reports


Richard Ramsey: An unambiguously negative series of announcements for Northern Ireland

Hamish McRae: The mountain we all have to climb just got steeper

Sean O'Grady: Fiscal tightening will roll back the frontiers of the state

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