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Cross-Sector Advisory Forum

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:30 pm on 20th April 2009.

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Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP 12:30 pm, 20th April 2009

I do not know anyone who has an IQ that strays into double figures who would suggest that a Programme for Government that prioritises the economy should be changed. The Executive have taken the correct decision. It is clear that that decision is the correct course along which to continue. The Budget — just like that of any other Government, anywhere in the world — can be changed as time goes on and as, on the one hand, pressures occur, and, on the other hand, there is underspend. That is what happens.

It is abundantly clear that there is no black hole in public finances. We managed to get through the previous financial year despite being told then that there was a black hole. When people talk about a “black hole”, they are referring to pressures. All Governments face pressures. For example, the Executive will face considerable pressure if, on Wednesday 22 April 2009, the Chancellor takes a decision that will impact on Northern Ireland to the extent that I have outlined already. That does not mean that there is a black hole; it means that we must take decisions to deal with additional pressure.

Undoubtedly, the Minister of Finance and Personnel will come to the House and make a proposal on how to deal with that pressure. There is, however, no hole in our spending plans. When I was Minister of Finance and Personnel, I used to point out repeatedly that the level of underspend in Departments is always considerable, so much so that the Ulster Unionist Member who talked about a black hole is the same person who told us that we should increase our overcommitment in the Budget. Therefore, he wanted us to have more expenditure than we had revenue to pay for at a time when we had to try to reduce our overcommitment. Am I not glad that I did not listen to that voice at that time and that we continued to reduce our overcommitment? Otherwise, we would have been in a perilous position at present.