As Arlene Foster prepares to leave the Department of Finance, Alliance had a little parting gift for her on the day she becomes DUP.
Following a meeting of the Executive, party leader, David Ford announced that both Stephen Farry and himself, voted against the budget before the Executive.
Speaking after the meeting he said;
Alliance Ministers approached the budget in terms of how it serves Northern Ireland, not their own departments. We have argued year after year for a strategic approach to budgeting, but year after year DUP and Sinn Fein Ministers cobble together a deal just to get their departments through the next 12 months.
This budget is bereft of strategic planning. Areas of waste and duplication remain unaddressed. Reforms of key services such as health and education have yet to be considered. Opportunities for even modest, progressive forms of revenue raising remain ignored, leaving us yet again relying on cuts to public services to balance our budget. To compound this, the DUP and Sinn Fein retain funds for them to spend on pet projects at a time when there is a clear need for spending in strategic areas.
Perhaps most alarming, the budget includes no supporting investments in preparation for the planned reduction in corporation tax – another critical opportunity missed to plan properly for what is the biggest financial decision an Executive will ever take. At a time when we should be investing in skills, and before last year’s cuts have even taken full effect, the skills budget is being cut still further.
At today’s meeting, Alliance Ministers’ efforts to generate a discussion around the budget were rebuffed. Alliance Ministers proposed that the decision on the budget be deferred until next week to allow Ministers to consider the implications of the proposals put before them. While we accept that the timetable for producing today’s budget was tight, there was no justification for rushing the budget within hours. There has been no proper engagement with key stakeholders. Yet again this makes a mockery of the approach that the DUP and Sinn Fein committed to in the so-called ‘Fresh Start’.
People give more consideration to their family’s Christmas budget than the Executive gave to Northern Ireland’s budget for next year.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs