Amidst months of wrangling and the now expected media circus and PM visits, the parties reached agreement on what we now know as the Stormont House Agreement. One month on, it may be useful to check it’s progress to date:
“4. A balanced budget for 2015-16 needs to be agreed in January.”
Last week saw DFP Minister Simon Hamilton MLA outline the proposals to the Assembly following conclusion of the consultation period. All in all, it makes a decent fist of what is a difficult set of circumstances.
As with the wider Stormont House Agreement, the political parties welcomed this announcement in the same fashion, DUP and SF highly supportive, with the UUP, SDLP and Alliance all rather lukewarm on the issue.
All in all, matter achieved. Tick and a star.
“6. Legislation will be brought before the Assembly in January 2015 to give effect to welfare changes alongside further work to develop and implement flexibilities and top-ups from the block grant as part of a package of measures to address local need.”
Having kept a close eye on Assembly Business over the past few weeks and a glance at this week’s Order Papers would suggest that this is an area of concern: No legislation has been brought or will be brought before the Assembly in January 2015 as agreed.
What does this mean? Are there still major disagreements in the background in relation to the implementation and subsequent roll-out of Welfare Reform?
Were the smaller parties right to withhold judgement knowing that this would potentially be the first area where Stormont House would become unstuck?
If we then accept that premise, where does the entirely of this agreement stand if one area is ‘breached’?
Who is accountable/responsible for this ‘breach’ if you consider it to be such?
I would suggest that in only the second test of the Stormont House Agreement, both the guardians and guarantors have been found wanting. The question is: where does that leave us now?