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First, let me clear up the issue of the Budget. I have a copy of the Hansard report of the Budget debate, which I am happy to share with the SDLP if its own records are not complete. I introduced the Budget to the Assembly on 11 February 2008, and it is stated that the question was put and agreed to and that it was resolved with cross-community support that the Budget Bill be passed without any division. The SDLP should know the difference between the Programme for Government and the Budget; it voted against the Programme for Government, but it voted for the Budget.
It would have been very surprising if we had come out of the first meeting of the cross-sector advisory forum with the answers to our economic ills. I do not believe that anyone who was there expected actions to flow from the group’s first get-together. In order for the deputy First Minister and me to make recommendations to colleagues and to ensure that those feed through the system, the subgroups have to give much consideration to issues, make proposals and recommendations and tender advice. There has not been action as a direct result of our first meeting other than to work out our work plan, but that will hardly have surprised anyone.
The deputy First Minister and I visited Brussels recently. We raised the matter of state aid in relation to specific projects whereby the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) has been faced with state-aid issues, and we will continue to do that. During our visit, we were encouraged by the very keen interest that President Barroso and other commissioners have taken in Northern Ireland. Indeed, they were willing to put forward a task force to make recommendations on how best we might equip ourselves to compete for European funding, rather than continuing as a region that automatically receives such funding.