Belfast Telegraph

Brokenshire's budget holds few surprises

Editor's Viewpoint

The budget for Northern Ireland put forward by Secretary of State James Brokenshire could just as easily been drafted by any senior civil servant. The pressure points on funding public services here have been well signposted, with health and education in particular in need of a financial boost.

Both were given headline cash bonuses but when inflation is taken into account they have, at best, stood still.

Given the dire warnings from health professionals and school heads about the perilous state of both services - and neither can be accused of crying wolf - the budget will have done little to allay concerns. Yet that should not surprise us as Mr Brokenshire has repeatedly made it clear that he regards the budget as a required technical exercise rather than an introduction to a new era of direct rule.

Certainly local ministers weighing up the competing demands of public services here may well have come to different conclusions when setting departmental budgets.

While some may regard dispensing the Northern Ireland block grant as a far cry from real financial planning given that it just involves shuffling a predetermined sum among the various departments, the absence of ministerial direction in this budget leads to a lack of imagination. However, ultimately the budget was designed to keep Northern Ireland solvent, which was the immediate problem.

The only minor surprise was Mr Brokenshire's announcement that £50m of the £1bn gained by the DUP for propping up the government will be made available to ease current pressures in education and health, as well as signalling that all the money does not depend on a functioning Executive at Stormont, remote as that prospect now seems as Sinn Fein gave up on inter-party negotiations yesterday.

The party was somewhat on the defensive as the other major parties pointed the finger of blame at them for the failure to restore devolution.

Sinn Fein's call for the British and Irish governments to implement what it says are unfulfilled pledges from previous agreements is unlikely to command widespread support as it smacks too much of joint authority to be contemplated by unionists.

In any case the public, fatigued by the inter-party bickering, expects our politicians to be mature enough to solve their own disputes. Otherwise perhaps they don't deserve to be paid their full MLA salaries until back in office.

Belfast Telegraph

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