The Budget has passed the Assembly with a vote of 62 for, with 30 against.
The DUP and Sinn Fein voted for the budget with Alliance, SDLP, UUP, TUV, Greens, Basil McCrea, John McCallister and Claire Sugden voting against.
In explaining their opposition to the budget, Trevor Lunn said;
This Budget was circulated to Executive Ministers at 9pm on December 16 ahead of the Executive meeting at 11am the following day. That is clearly not enough time to discuss, debate and formulate ideas around what is a vital document regarding the future finances of Northern Ireland.
One of the main issues is around the decision to set a date and rate of Corporation Tax. That means the requirement to invest in skills takes on an increased urgency, but this Budget actually places further pressure on our skills base, which is already being hollowed out through budget cuts.
As on previous occasions, the DUP and Sinn Fein have displayed an arrogant disregard for the democratic process over this matter. This document is not in any way strategic – it misses opportunities to invest in the economy and address serious problems at the same time.
Then we had the SDLP leader arguing for the need to have an alternative;
This is a Budget which gives up and gives in. It is a Sinn Fein/DUP Budget that exposes the ambition behind their nine years in power. They believe Stormont only has to exist. Theirs is the ideology of just keeping the show on the road. Nothing more. The cuts to Education and Skills show this most.
“48 hours after the Vice-Chancellors of our two universities warned on Radio Ulster that higher education faced dire choices, this budget cuts a further £24 million from higher education and skills. 2,000 student places have already been cut; this budget ensures that number will spiral further.
“These are choices which fail young workers. These are choices which ensure the continued exodus of 24,000 of our young people each and every year. Reduced corporation tax will have little impact if we have no young people to fill the new jobs.
“Ever since the 1947 act, education has played a massive role in the story of the North. History records its role in creating the civil rights generation. That history is something which obviously runs especially deep in the hearts and minds of the Nationalist community. We know the importance of access to education.
“Sinn Fein are now stripping away that progress, piece by piece, student place by student place. For Sinn Féin to be removing access to education to this generation is nothing short of a disgrace. Let them be warned, the Nationalist community of the North, this generation, will not forgive them for it.
“Different priorities were possible.
“There is £1.7 billion pounds with no clear allocation. £1 billion in the RRI, £600 million from the HS2 Barnett consequential and £100 million in the Northern Ireland Investment Fund which could be prioritised to achieve more.
“The SDLP believes that the politics of this place can reach for more. We believe in different priorities, priorities which invest in people and invest in the future.
“We believe that the North can do better than this. We believe the North has to do better than this.
“That’s the choice in May’s elections. That’s the alternative on offer.”
This is all well and good from both Alliance and the SDLP, but once again we are in a situation where Executive parties vote against the Executive budget.
If there is a genuine alternative then spell it out and tell us how things will be different if we vote for you on May 5th.
Nobody is expecting a detailed spreadsheet but a commitment to in the next term not persisting with the farce of being in government and opposition at the same time would be a start. If we could get some sense of a credible direction of travel under your plan, that would be good too. Like would you bring in revenue raisers to fund extra spending?
I am sure there is plenty to critique in this budget and much that can be improved, but I genuinely hope that after May 5th this sham of having two bob each way on budgetary matters (normally regarded as confidence measures) ends.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs