Belfast Telegraph

Executive decisions about Ulster are taken in London

The Assembly's knee-jerk response to welfare changes is the latest example of the democratic deficit afflicting Northern Ireland, says Boyd Black

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, made it clear to the Tory party conference last week that, as a result of his economic failure, he will be looking for an additional £16bn of cuts, or tax rises, by 2015-16 to stick to his fiscal plan.

Much of this will come from proposed cuts in welfare payments to people of working age - including housing benefits for young people.

The worsening of the public finances under the Tories will mean austerity will be extended beyond the next general election to 2018.

Inevitably, Northern Ireland will feel the pain, as we take our share of these additional cuts.

Our block grant will be further reduced, so that there will be additional cuts to our health, education, innovation and skills, infrastructure and business growth budgets. Also, the level of welfare spending in the local economy will be reduced.

All this will have a knock-on effect on the private sector, especially on small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The outlook for unemployment is not good.

This demonstrates how dependent our economy ultimately is on decisions made at Westminster.

On taxation and spending, welfare reform and the general direction of the economy, we are at the mercy of a Tory government of incompetents.

They are good at looking after millionaires and are making things worse for nearly everyone else.

The mention of incompetence brings us neatly to the Stormont Executive and their proposal to reduce corporation tax for large companies at a further cost to our block grant of between £500m and £700m-per-annum, on top of all the additional cuts mentioned above. Does the Executive want to finish off the Northern Ireland economy completely?

But the main point is that these massive decisions on taxation, spending and welfare, which will overwhelmingly determine our future, are made at Westminster by a government that has no mandate here. It is highly undemocratic.

Neither the Tories, nor the Lib Dems, have any MPs in Northern Ireland. Even Naomi Long, MP for the Lib Dems' sister party, Alliance, refuses to support them and sits on the Opposition benches.

At least the Tories tried to get an MP elected.

We in the Labour Party in Northern Ireland went to the Labour Party conference in Manchester to continue our efforts to persuade the party that this undemocratic state of affairs is unsustainable.

We are a process - led by the Labour Party's national executive committee (NEC) and involving the Irish Labour Party and the SDLP - to see if we can find a way forward.

We had a very productive meeting at conference with the NEC and Vernon Coaker MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is facilitating the process. That process is ongoing and discussions are continuing.

Obviously, the Labour Party fighting elections in Northern Ireland is a sensitive matter. When Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, said - in response to a question from one of our delegates in Manchester - that he is wary of the party fielding candidates in Northern Ireland, he was reflecting the current party position.

We in the Labour Party in Northern Ireland are committed to the NEC process and are confident that progress will be made with the help of Vernon Coaker.

We believe the democratic deficit which exists over taxation, spending and our block grant cannot continue indefinitely.

The people of Northern Ireland must have the democratic right to unite to vote the Tories out and elect a Labour government with a better set of priorities for the economy.


From Belfast Telegraph