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The main role of the Department of Finance and Personnel in respect of the Executive’s response to the economic downturn is to facilitate and assist other Departments as they provide support to local households and businesses in the economic downturn.
I announced the formation of a construction industry forum procurement task group for Northern Ireland in the Assembly on 15 December 2008, and the Executive’s reviews of rating, regional rate freeze and the deferral of water charges have all helped many households. Furthermore, non-domestic rating policy has benefited small businesses and manufacturing companies, and a 10-day prompt-payment initiative was announced in November 2008 to assist suppliers’ cash flow. Moreover, significant additional support was provided to local firms and businesses as part of last year’s in-year monitoring process.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Returning to the issue of the Barnett consequentials, although I respect fully the right of the Executive to make their own decisions, surely the fact that we are getting £116 million as a result of increased investment in Britain gives a strong indication that we should do more for the economy in Northern Ireland.
It seems that I must keep reminding Members of the increase in capital investment and expenditure here last year. Capital investment, which assists the construction industry and which will provide a modern infrastructure for Northern Ireland, was increased by 30% last year compared with the year before. That is a very significant increase by anyone’s standards, and the Executive have also introduced specific measures to assist businesses and those in jobs in very difficult times. Those measures include capping manufacturing rates, freezing business rates and introducing a small business rate.
If we deal with the wider issue of expenditure coming into Northern Ireland through the block grant, the £118-odd million as a result of the Barnett consequentials, it must be remembered that a significant increase has been built into departmental spending plans in 2009-2010 compared with 2008-09. For example, the Department of Education has seen its resource allocation increased this year by 5·8% and its capital allocation by 18%. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has increased its resource allocation by 4·5%, and the Department for Regional Development, which deals with much of the infrastructural investment, increased its resource allocation by 7·5%. Therefore, significant increases in the spending of various Departments in Northern Ireland have been created through the Budget process, regardless of any money that is gained through the Barnett consequentials.