Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: New budget is welcome, but still no substitute for our own politicians making much-needed decisions on the ground

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley

Editor's Viewpoint

There is little point in local politicians either congratulating themselves, as in the case of the DUP, or carping, in the case of Sinn Fein, about the budget announced by the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley. It is much as expected from someone who only performed the task in the absence of those who should have been doing it.

The bonus was the inclusion of £410m from the £1bn promised by the Westminster government to the DUP for propping up Theresa May. This has added a little gloss to what is a lacklustre and unimaginative bit of housekeeping.

Health, which always demands by far the most of the budget, gets little above the minimum of what those in the NHS say is necessary to keep pace with developments. Of particular interest is the £100m earmarked for transformation of the service in line with the Bengoa report, but the problem remains that there is no local minister to make the policy decisions required to ensure the money is spent effectively.

But what the Secretary of State gave with one hand she took away with another by increasing domestic rates by 4.5%, which runs contrary to the previous Assemblies, which pegged increases to the rate of inflation.

Some money has been found for infrastructure projects but the list of demands on the budget have grown like Topsy since the Assembly went into mothballs well over a year ago. Only this week the Police Federation revealed the strain on the PSNI, with officers racking up £45.5m in overtime to April last year because there are not enough members of the force. Even with the nominal increases given to education in this latest budget, schools are under enormous pressures, as is practically every other sector of the economy.

People who are now concerned about their jobs and future prospects and facing higher rates and gas bills will grow increasingly dismayed at the failure of local politicians to do the job they were elected for and will look askance at the Secretary of State's failure to take action on cutting MLAs' pay.

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