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I welcome the fact that the SDLP has taken an interest in efficiencies and matters relating to the Budget. It has always had the opportunity to bring forward proposals in the Executive, as it is part of the four-party mandatory coalition. The fact that the SDLP brought its proposals to the public’s attention, as opposed to bringing them to the Executive, might indicate the mindset in that party — one might even think that there was an election in the offing.
It is important that all parties, not only the SDLP, look at how we can best use the resources that are available to us. To be frank, having looked at the SDLP’s proposals, I see that a significant number of the better ones are proposals that my party has made in the past, proposals that have been considered by the Executive or proposals for capital spend that have been outlined already — in the Varney report, for instance.
Some of the SDLP’s proposals are inaccurate and some are grossly exaggerated, but at least the SDLP is looking at efficiencies and recognising that, given that we have a finite Budget, choices must be made. The important feature of the SDLP’s proposals is that that party recognised for the first time something that has been shown fairly consistently in Executive meetings, which is that it is not simply a case of telling people what one would like to spend money on and outlining what additional funds could be used in various areas. The SDLP’s paper is significant in that it identified that, if more money is to be spent in some areas in order to inflate the economy, the resources for that must be found elsewhere. The whole House needs to start examining its priorities.
Incidentally, contrary to what is said in the SDLP’s statement, the SDLP did not vote against the Budget — the House accepted, and is tied to, the Budget unanimously. The Budget settlement is based on the priority in the Programme for Government to focus on the economy. Rightly and at the right time, we decided that, front and centre, the economy is our number one priority.