“making tough choices for the good of the country…”

And so it came to pass…  After weeks of political posturing the Northern Ireland Executive stayed up late last night to discuss DUP/Sinn Féin proposals for the draft NI Budget.

And with those two parties having enough votes in the Executive – the UUP and SDLP abstained with the Alliance Party’s minister agreeing the proposals – today the Assembly is being immediately bumped into passing agreeing the draft ahead of a public consultation…

The title quote is Jim Fitzpatrick’s prediction of the spin from OFMDFM.  And he was right.

I’m still waiting to see more detail of the actual proposals, but according to reports there is a reliance on the disposal of public assets…

The NI Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, will be pleased.

Meanwhile, Liam Clarke has another proposal

Now is the time to agitate for legislation to extend such rights to any party that chooses to go into opposition.

Doing the unexpected is always a risk, but it could lift the SDLP and UUP out of their current obscurity. They could be seen as principled politicians who won’t cling to office at any price, and who represent a plausible alternative government.

Declaring a willingness to pull out of the executive would immediately increase their leverage. The DUP like to have political cover from other unionists, and would not wish to be in office with Sinn Féin on their own. Both big parties would prefer their smaller rivals as junior partners in government than as leaders of an opposition. The perception that the smaller parties could no longer be taken for granted would increase their influence.

It’s a risk, but the alternative is to carry on as they are, and wait to be thanked in the history books.

Adds  NI Finance Minister’s statement on draft budget.

Draft Budget 2010 online.

And the draft budget 2010 document [pdf file]

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  • Apologies Pete, I haven’t got the direct link or time to format this but I’m sure you can sort it out after:

    Stormont ministers have unveiled budget plans to raise nearly £1 billion in new revenue to help offset the impact of £4 billion spending cuts in Northern Ireland.
    Half the target will be achieved by a major sell-off of publicly-owned assets, with other measures including £150 million generated from an inflationary increase on rates, £16 million brought in from a levy on plastic bags and £80 million from housing association assets.
    Finance Minister Sammy Wilson confirmed the details of the package in the Northern Ireland Assembly, after the blueprint was finalised in late-night negotiations.
    He said that, in agreeing a four-year budget which was forced by central Government’s hard-hitting spending review, the Executive had “come of age”, with a package which he signalled would protect the most vulnerable and help ensure economic growth.
    Mr Wilson said: “We have proved that we can take difficult decisions, we have proved we can reach agreement.
    “We have proved we can work together for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.”
    mfl
    Page 2: 12:18The deal was brokered in negotiations led by the DUP and Sinn Fein, but including the Ulster Unionists, nationalist SDLP and the Alliance Party.
    The ideas for new revenue account for an estimated 20-25% of the plan, with 75-80% made-up of cost saving measures aimed at managing the Executive’s reduced pot of money.
    The cost saving and revenue raising measures unveiled by Mr Wilson included:
    :: A pay freeze for the 12,000 civil servants under Stormont control and who earn over £21,000. The 14,000 civil servants earning less will receive stepped increases of £250 per year. Other public sector workers are affected by anticipated UK-wide deals.
    :: Economic growth would remain the Executive’s top priority, but there is a pledge to “bear down” on costs in departments, with a pledge to review quangos within the next six months, after which some could be ditched or merged.
    :: Departments will have to prioritise projects, including building programmes, with the essential measures getting priority.
    :: Domestic and non-domestic rates will have to take on inflationary increases, expected to average 2% per year, but the Executive argues this is a freeze in real terms.
    :: The Executive has resisted the calls to introduce water charges – a promise to extend across the next four years
    :: The Executive will raise £35 million over four years by tapping-in to the Belfast Harbour Commission resources, but it is indicated this figure could rise to £125 million.
    :: An estimated £540 million will be raised from selling-off assets over the next four years, but that could rise.
    Mr Wilson said the draft budget, which will now go out for public consultation, protected jobs and avoided over-loading households with new costs.
    He added: “It is good for families, good for business and lays the foundation for a better future.”
    mfl
    Page 3: 12:20Other costs will be saved by reducing government spend on external consultants (currently sitting at £20 million per annum) by 10% a year.
    Despite the cutbacks, the Executive has identified a number of specific investment priorities.
    These include:
    :: A partial ringfencing of the health and social services budget. The 77% of the spend allocated specifically to health will be safeguarded and rise by 0.2% on top of inflation over the budget period.
    :: An £80 million Social Investment Fund to regenerate deprived working class neighbourhoods still suffering from the legacy of the Troubles.
    :: A Social Protection Fund that will provide time-limited support to individuals hit hard by changes to the UK welfare reform. This will be allocated £20 million in the first year with hopes this level of funding can be sustained into the future.
    :: An £18 million project, delivered by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, focused on boosting job numbers
    :: A £5 million investment in NI Screen to help build new film studios at the Paint Works in east Belfast – a facility currently being used by US production giant HBO.
    :: The go-ahead for a new £120 million police training college in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.
    :: Confirmation a £110 million project to redevelop the region’s three main sports stadiums will proceed

  • DC

    I’d rather see water charges introduced and the money raised by that used to off-set the reduction in the block grant which would come if our politicians sought and won a reduction in corporation tax to 12.5%.

  • Pete Baker

    Adds NI Finance Minister’s statement on draft budget.

    Draft Budget 2010 online.

    And the draft budget 2010 document [pdf file]

  • Fair Deal

    “and who represent a plausible alternative government.”

    This is the core problem with the Clarke thesis. Have they the individual and collective ability to look like a plausible alternative?

  • The Word

    FD

    “Have they the individual and collective ability to look like a plausible alternative?”

    In the case of the SDLP there is still a lot of talent there and coming through. But Clearly you are asking the question through unionist eyes, eyes that see how well the DUP is controlling SF, and can’t see the same degree of superiority even remotely possible in the case of a bigger UUP.

    Maybe the time is near for accepting that “talent” is an issue for Nationalists rather than having these SF ministers superficially endorsing the left position while it in reality means little, as a populist strategy, that undermines support for the SDLP on the basis that they then “argue” that the SDLP is middleclass.

    In other words, Sinn Fein have bought their left credentials cheaply, and they’re on the road to Dublin on this basis. It may be time to really test their left credentials.

    How much do they owe the USA fundraisers, the rural Nationalists of NI, and the businesses they used to argue donated funds to the cause, and if they weren’t giving freely to contact Martin?

    It may in fact be the case that this is essntially a right orientated movement – endorsing the Nation is of the right usually and leads to Tory economic policies that maximise GNP – served and fronted by a large number of ex-soldiers, already compromised no doubt by the availability of ex-gratia pension payments from their considerable resssources.

  • townieman

    I’d rather see prescription charges re-introduced along with water charges. The tax on plastic bags, if it is intended to raise funds, will be a failure.

    As for freezing the pay of Civil Servants aren’t they entitled to a progression of one pay point on their pay scale if their annual review is satisfactory?

  • andnowwhat

    Very nice. Freeze civil servants pay (I reluctantly get that) but then hit them with parking charges.

  • joeCanuck

    I would hope that a freeze on CS’s pay would refer to any attempt at a general raise and not annual increments as your experience and worth increase.

  • Dixie

    The British are pumping billions of pounds into propping up ‘friendly’ governments in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as bombing the shit out of the not so friendly inhabitants of those countries who object to their occupation and the plundering of their country’s natural resources.

    These billions have to come from somewhere and the Stormont government is duly collecting on their behalf without a word of protest.

    Ask yourself why have PSF not once mentioned, never mind rose hell , either in the media or from their plush seats in Stormont, about the British government pumping billions into these countries while enforcing across the board cuts on the North?

  • joeCanuck

    Why? Er, because they’re not the socialists they sometimes claim to be?

  • Fair Deal

    Various

    CS rises through Annual Increments will continue.

    TheWord

    “In the case of the SDLP there is still a lot of talent there and coming through. But Clearly you are asking the question through unionist eyes”

    As regards the SDLP not quite, my thinking is perhaps more focused on their assembly team and their new leader.

  • The Word

    FD

    re “SDLP Assembly team and new leader”

    The SDLP has had two excellent improvements to the team in recent months with Conall McDevitt and Pol Callaghan.
    The new leader is a woman as you will know and gives this female party in terms of values, i.e. the alternative to masculine SF, an added dimension. I think that there are a lot of people who don’t relate at all to the sixty-something deep throated almost patronising leadership of Gerry Adams.

    Yes, there are things that could improve, but a major problem has always been competing with SF. Let’s say it would be a lot easier if they were honest in choosing candidates that reflected the true influences on the direction of their party.

    They are now going south on this same dishonest basis and the lies now need to be exposed all the more.

    The UUP is not always high quality but they tend to be honest men with old style morality, sometimes in a troubling sense that it seems that they are very dull, dour and over-displined by a sense of fear.

    The leader is positively untested yet.

  • Cynic2

    Dixie

    And those countries probably need it more than NI does. Do get a sense of perspective. The world doesn’t revolve around Ireland

  • Cynic2

    ” entitled to a progression of one pay point on their pay scale ”

    …. of course they are …..so give the union a choice …..do they want to accept the change in T&Cs and a freeze or shall we cut another 5% of the jobs. Thats what you have to do when you balance a bloated budget