Benefit Tribunals

Part of Northern Ireland Assembly – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 14th February 2012.

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Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:45 pm, 14th February 2012

I accept your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. The fact that only 10% of our people are on welfare benefits in respect of households will obviously have an implication. All that I am saying is that there are additional pressures, and I think that we have to take them into consideration.

Further to that, I am disappointed about the way in which the Executive have dealt with the green new deal, which I think is pertinent to the debate; it is kosher. I do not think that the Executive are properly exploiting the great opportunity that it offers. I mean “exploiting” in the proper sense of the word; taking advantage of the green new deal for the benefit of the whole community in respect of job creation and in respect of something that is dear to the Finance Minister’s heart — trying to deal with climate change. I knew that he would react to that. It is very important for us to reduce carbon emissions.

It is very important that we increase the energy efficiency of our homes, and that creates employment, jobs and economic activity. I do not think that the Executive have given that a fair enough wind to develop a proper, well-financed green new deal. This is money well spent, and it will create jobs in the short term. I hope that the Minister of Finance and Personnel will take that into consideration when reviewing allocations in the near future. I hope that it will be top of his agenda and that he will consider the green new deal a top priority for government expenditure.

I also want to talk about the social housing programme. The Programme for Government states that 8,000 houses should be built over the next number of years, but I think that there should be an expansion of that programme. An expansion of 500 or 1,000 houses a year could stimulate the construction industry, which is on its knees. As an Executive and Assembly, we have the direct means to increase investment in social housing. If we were to do that, we could directly address the continuing difficulties in the construction industry. That is important, so I say to the Minister of Finance, the Executive and the Minister for Social Development that that should be reviewed.

My final point on the current year’s Budget is that our not having a Programme for Government until later in the year meant that we put the cart before the horse. We have not had a Programme for Government from which to work and establish targets, outcomes and inputs. As a result, there is a disconnect across Departments and a lack of continuity right across government. It is a patchwork of unaligned spending proposals that are not related to a Programme for Government. I emphasise the need for a Programme for Government properly to co-ordinate Executive spending.

Regrettably, there is no evidence of economic recovery in Northern Ireland at present. The pressures on the Executive and the Minister of Finance and Personnel are considerable, and they will get worse unless there is progress on the recovery of our economy. I am happy to conclude on that point.