Hamilton balances the budget but 20,000 jobs destined for the scrapheap

So the NI budget? How was it for you? John Campbell of the BBC NI has most of the readings against Simon Hamilton’s draft budget… Mr Hamilton’s own account only references additions and neglects the subtractions..

Meanwhile Michael McHugh notes the eye-wateringly high number of public sector jobs expected to go

Around 20,000 jobs are to be slashed from Northern Ireland’s public sector following a political deal to safeguard powersharing.

The posts will go over the next four years after money was set aside in Stormont’s budget for a voluntary exit scheme and freeze on recruitment.

An extra £27m has been set aside to mitigate the worst impact of welfare reform during the next financial year, finance minister Simon Hamilton said.

The Minister expanded on that in his own statement, warning there is plenty more where that came from

“I have been warning for many months that pressure on public expenditure would inevitably result in a change to the shape and nature of our public sector. That remains true. Despite allocating an additional £150million in this budget it would be a misjudgement to believe that we can take our foot off the pedal of reform. A better budget than we might have dared to imagine six months ago does not mean that difficult decisions can be avoided. Reform and restructuring remain as relevant now as they did before.

“The Executive will shortly adopt a comprehensive programme of public sector reform and restructuring which will encompass a wide range of strategies including a combination of measures such as a Voluntary Exit Scheme (VES) and recruitment freeze. The flexibilities agreed in the Stormont House Agreement to utilise up to £200million of RRI borrowing to pay for a VES in 2015-16, will greatly assist the Executive in its aim to reform and restructure.”

Effective reform however needs agreed priorities on policy. This still looks like a departmental carve up rather than a coherent plan for reform. The Finance Minister is right in one regard, the budget is going to take a serious squeeze from here on.

George Osborne has announced his intention to take more out of the central UK budget in the next two years than he has in the last five. Time to get creative?