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Cross-Sector Advisory Forum

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:45 pm on 20th April 2009.

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Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP 12:45 pm, 20th April 2009

All economists are not saying the same thing — they never do. One chooses an economist and receives the desired view.

The Member makes a valuable point about whether it is beneficial to have an economist, or economists, on the forum or giving advice to it. Of course, there are a number of economists within the officialdom of the Executive; we are not bereft of their advice.

I recognise that there are different ways to prioritise the economy within the general scope of growing the economy. That does not change the Programme for Government; it changes the actions that might be taken by Departments or on Budget spend. However, if one takes even the SDLP proposal — its Members will forgive me for mentioning it because they, at least, have a proposal to be discussed — even at its fullest, if one were to believe it as they have outlined it, that proposal would only mean a 1% change in the overall Budget for Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I think there is some double-accounting on the part of the SDLP, which it needs to take into consideration.

There are valuable elements in the SDLP’s overall proposal, but many of them are already taken into account by Government.

Most Government business has to continue. Every Department has fixed costs, about which it can do nothing. Therefore, what can be changed is very much on the periphery and is very much down to the drive and determination of Ministers in those areas. Although the Member said that there will be difficulties with foreign direct investment at present, that should not reduce our ambition to bring FDI to Northern Ireland. It should not reduce the enthusiasm of Invest Northern Ireland to go out and sell the Province as a place for people to come to. Far from reducing spend in those areas, we have to continue to pay the necessary price to ensure that Northern Ireland is before business leaders. The benefits of the decisions that they might make today, or tomorrow, may not be realised in Northern Ireland for years to come.

In relation to the Budget, we are happy to consider proposals. The economic crisis that we are facing is a standing item on the agenda of every Executive meeting. Therefore, any proposal brought forward by any Minister at any Executive meeting can be considered in relation to a re-prioritisation of spend.