Belfast Telegraph

Tick tock: Counting the seconds towards the Stormont House agreement deadlines

Signing the agreement is one thing – delivering on the promises made by signing the agreement is quite another matter.

By Will Chambre

After the muted euphoria before Christmas on the Stormont House Agreement, politicians must be gulping slightly at the deadlines coming ever closer with each passing second.

While the British Government is intent on bringing forward the legislation on Corporation Tax, MLAs will now be looking uncomfortably at what they now need to do.

By the end of January – the draft budget will have to be agreed; which, given the complexity of the Treasury formulae and the level of cuts, will be no mean feat in itself.

There will also be the ever-so-slightly troubling matter of bringing welfare reform legislation to the Assembly floor. It needs to complete its passage before the end of February. Given the normal glacial pace of legislative change on the Hill, achieving this would be a massive accomplishment.

All this will be taking place against a backdrop that requires all the Executive parties to endorse the Stormont House Agreement.

At the same time, the agenda for public sector reform and restructuring is getting underway. You can read ‘reform’ as civil and public service job cuts.

The Treasury is giving £700m of capital borrowing over four years to fund a voluntary redundancy scheme; £200m for the first three years and £100m in the final year.

This will begin within 11 weeks, as by March the Executive departments must report on their proposed reform measures and the first voluntary redundancies could begin as soon as April.

And, just before the Westminster election purdah period officially comes into force in April, parties will have to agree arrangements made by the Assembly for an official opposition.

After that there are a series of further deadlines that must be met.

Signing the agreement is one thing – delivering on the promises made by signing the agreement is quite another matter.

It was easy for even the most cynical of observers to scotch hopes of parties agreeing before Christmas, but they did. Now the cynical voices are beginning to rise again.

Any beacons of hope out there could be slowly, but surely, turning dark – after all the department of regional development aren’t fixing street lights.

Despite the hopes raised by the Stormont House Agreement – we must not forget that the coalition government’s programme of austerity is well under way here...

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