Budget (No. 2) Bill 2014:  Final Stage

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 30th June 2014.

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Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I beg to move

That the Budget (No. 2) Bill [NIA 36/11-15] do now pass.

The passing of the Final Stage of the Budget (No. 2) Bill by the House will provide legislative cover for the currently agreed Budget and enable Departments to continue to use resources and spend cash on public services for the remainder of this financial year.  Of course, as I said on many occasions, the Budget position is continually moving and in-year changes will amend the opening position reflected in the Bill.  That will be of particular importance this year as most departmental budgets will have to be reduced if we do not progress welfare reform.  As is customary, I will bring updated legislation to the House in February 2015 to authorise the final position for this financial year. 

The public expenditure issues and many other issues around this Bill have been debated fully over the past two weeks, and I do not propose to repeat them today in my opening remarks.  However, I want to reinforce the issue of welfare reform, which dominated the Budget Bill debates a few weeks ago.  We in the Executive and in this Assembly are faced with a stark choice.  Delivery of welfare reform will see the welfare budget rise more slowly but it will see that budget being funded by Her Majesty's Treasury.  Should we not implement welfare reform, Her Majesty's Treasury will expect to see the savings being taken from our budgets and the Executive must then take action to address this issue.  That will undoubtedly require tough decisions.  Those decisions must be made early in the financial year to allow Departments to plan accordingly. 

We must either implement welfare reform or plan early to address the budgetary reductions.  Inertia on this position would simply have the effect of paralysing our public services as funding would be held back in anticipation of a reduction further down the line.  I am sure that some Members will again raise the issue of welfare reform and may even challenge my assessment during this debate, so I may well return to it in my concluding remarks.

It is important to state that the provision in the Bill represents the final year of the Budget 2011-15 as agreed by the previous Assembly in March 2011.  Members will be aware that there have been a number of changes to the position since then, and these have been agreed by the Executive and brought before the Finance and Personnel Committee for scrutiny in advance of this debate.  The Committee agreed accelerated passage, and I am grateful for that.  The Committee’s work in examining the changes to budgets that have led to the Bill before us today is often unheralded but it is a crucial aspect of devolved government.  I will ensure that my officials continue to provide financial information in a timely manner to allow the Committee to continue exercising its important role. 

Transparency in public finances and the financial process that underpins those finances is to be welcomed.  However, as we heard in the Chamber over the course of debating this legislation, transparency is not uniform across all Assembly Committees.  I encourage all Departments to provide transparent and timely information to Committees to allow them to exercise a proper scrutiny role over departmental Estimates information. 

In terms of that transparency, the Finance and Personnel Committee and, indeed, a number of Members expressed frustration about its technical nature and the lack of read-across to the Budget position.  My officials have provided summary tables that I understand are helpful to the Committees in reconciling the Estimates and Budget figures, but I agree that the process remains somewhat opaque.  I believe that there is an opportunity for the Assembly to transform this process, and I hope that we can progress that in the near future. 

This year, we as an Assembly find ourselves facing substantial pressures on the Budget.  Most, if not all, Departments face additional pressures in some form and, unfortunately, I do not have an infinite supply of funding.  We are able to supplement our block grant with additional receipts, regional rates and reinvestment and reform initiative (RRI) borrowing, but even that is not sufficient.  Going forward, we must find better ways of doing what we do.  We must look to reforming our public services so that we can deliver more for less.

I firmly believe that reform is the only way that we will be able to provide world-class public services within the future budgetary constraints that we face.   We must ensure that every penny spent on the provision of public services is spent wisely and spent on high-priority services, but we must also ensure that we live within the constraints placed upon us by Her Majesty's Treasury, including reductions in relation to welfare reform.  They cannot be ignored and we must plan accordingly.

With that appeal, I bring my remarks to a close and ask Members to support the Bill.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin 12:15 pm, 30th June 2014

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  As I said during the previous debate, the Committee has agreed, under Standing Order 42(2), to grant accelerated passage to the Budget Bill on the basis of having been consulted appropriately on its expenditure provisions.  It is imperative that the Department meet its requirement for appropriate consultation on each occasion, given the importance of such Bills progressing through the Assembly before the summer recess.

As for the remainder of this financial year, I reiterate my previous point on the contribution of Assembly Committees to the Budget and financial processes, and the importance of regular, timely and effective scrutiny of the financial forecasting and performance of Departments.  That will enable Committees to identify issues in real time and obtain assurances that the necessary corrective or preventative action will be taken.  It will help to ensure that no moneys are returned to the Treasury as a result of underspends beyond the thresholds agreed in the Budget exchange scheme and that retrospective action is not needed to regularise any excess spend.

I also explained during previous budgetary debates that the Committee is taking forward work, in collaboration with the Department, to develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the Budget process.  That should, in conjunction with other measures, help to improve the Budget and financial processes and related parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.

The proposal for the MOU arises from the previous Committee’s inquiry into the Assembly's scrutiny and advisory role in relation to the Executive’s Budget and expenditure.  It was also a key recommendation from the Executive’s review of the financial process.  It will facilitate the constructive and meaningful input and scrutiny by Members and Committees, which will assist in overseeing the effective and efficient delivery of the Executive’s strategic priorities.  It will support the Executive in their role of managing public expenditure and further promote good working relationships between Departments and their Committee, as well as Departments and individual Members.

The Committee recently wrote to the Minister to ask for an update on his consideration of the draft memorandum of understanding, which was developed jointly by Committee staff and DFP officials.  Perhaps the Minister will provide some positive indications in his winding-up speech today.

In anticipation of exercising its coordination function in the Assembly scrutiny of the draft Budget 2015-16, the Committee has been undertaking preliminary research and investigation into strategic finance issues, most recently financial transactions capital, efficiency savings, performance against savings delivery plans and borrowing from the European Investment Bank.  Further such cross-departmental work will be undertaken on preventative spending and on the year-end surge of spending by Departments.

I will move on to speak from a party political point of view.  The Minister referred to welfare reform, as it is called, which not only exercises many politicians here but, quite clearly, many across the water.  I was reading 'The Economist' last week, and it was interesting that even it now states that universal credit is one of the great Whitehall disasters of recent times.  We also see that the Westminster Public Accounts Committee has deemed the personal independence payments situation a "fiasco" and described the incompetence of DFP as "shocking".  So a number of things happening with welfare reform in Britain clearly indicate that the entire process is on the rocks.  That being the case, we have to ask ourselves whether it is wise to tie our load to what is, effectively, the sinking ship of welfare reform and the agenda of the present Tory/Lib Dem coalition in London.

Whilst Labour is taking a contrary position and following some of the welfare reform agenda, it is quite clear that the strategy and the agenda that has been pursued by Iain Duncan Smith is not working and will not work.  Given that the Government are breaching their own welfare caps and cannot even put their own IT system in place, I do not see the need for us to follow them down that road, when it is quite clear that it is not going to work.

I want to refer back to the Westminster Public Accounts Committee report on welfare reform in Britain.  According to the report, the implementation of welfare reform has been so poor that terminally ill people have been waiting months for their entitlements.  That is a commonplace problem across the water, and we have to ask ourselves how we, as human beings, can oversee, or consider overseeing, a welfare agenda that leads to a situation in which terminally ill people lose their entitlements, sometimes weeks before they lose their life.

We will continue to oppose the welfare agenda of the British Government at Westminster, and it is absolute lunacy to tie ourselves to what is now a sinking ship.  Understandably, the DUP wants to get into bed with the Tories next year, and perhaps a lot of this is more to do with that than welfare reform itself.

We need to look at other costs as well.  We are obviously facing into another summer, and, unfortunately, there is the potential for conflict on parades.  We need to deal with that.  Some of the greatest risks to our peace process are parades and conflict on our streets —

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Order.  I am very conscious that the Member is moving slightly away from the subject matter.  I am trying to be helpful, so I ask him, as far as possible, to keep to the debate before the House.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Those represent a big threat to costs and the policing budget, and we need to cognisant of that.  They are also a tourism and investment deterrent and undermine stability.  Anyone who listened to the radio this morning will have heard representatives from the business community say that they want politicians and political parties to sort out the remaining issues over the summer.  All political parties need to get to grips with that.  They affect not only communities in parts of Belfast and elsewhere but our economy, community relations and all our futures.  We need to start to get to grips with the issues.

The Minister has made much of public sector reform, and the Committee is certainly interested in pursuing that further.  He has put some changes in place, but we really need to see some delivery.  The Committee will soon conclude its inquiry into flexible working.  All of that is important in freeing up resources for future budgets.  Once the Committee concludes its inquiry, we will want to hear more positive soundings from senior officials in the Department about introducing flexible working and freeing up resources and space in public sector buildings.  We have heard from a number of organisations, particularly those in the private sector, that do not understand why the public sector cannot catch up or try to introduce a degree of risk-taking into the process to ensure that the agenda is successfully pursued.

We have also heard from a number of organisations and businesses based here that are taking technology to public sector organisations in lots of other countries but feel that they are up against the wall with the public sector here.  We really need to get technological improvements in place, and with the Department of Health in particular, because the inefficiencies there are absolutely enormous.  The Minister of Health has not got to grips with that.  Sometimes it seems that he is the Oliver Twist of the Executive:  every time that there is a monitoring round, Mr Poots says, "Please, Mr Finance Minister, give me some more".  The Health Minister has to look in the other direction and deal with the inefficiencies in his Department.

To conclude, I support the Budget Bill, and my party supports the Budget Bill as it is presented.  However, there are a number of challenges with the economy and with dealing with some of the wastage that is still taking place in the public sector.  That involves dealing not only with public sector reform but with the big issues around parades and the issues that are affecting civil society and which the business community is alarmed about at the moment.  That is something that the Executive as a whole need to get to grips with over this summer.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan DUP

I, too, stand to speak in favour of the Final Stage of the Budget (No. 2) Bill.  In doing so, I appreciate that a number of the discussions have already taken place and that, within the Committee, there has been quite an extensive look across what is happening from Department to Department.  However, I appreciate that there is a review of the process and that clarity is required within that.  The budgets as they are presented are extremely difficult to interpret from one Department to another, so there is a certain amount of crossover that needs to be linked into to ensure that we are looking at everything in the whole. 

The Bill, primarily, is to allow the Departments to go ahead and make the spend to the end of this financial year.  I appreciate that there have been difficulties in trying to manage the Budget right through the whole term of this Assembly in that we set the Budget in March 2011, as has been mentioned.  That is the Budget that we are working on currently.  That Budget indicated a £4 billion reduction from what we receive as a subvention from Westminster over that whole period.  I appreciate that you cannot really cut £4 billion without having some pain.  It has not necessarily been a painless process, but we have risen to the occasion.  We have dealt with what we have in what I believe to be a reasonable and mature approach towards that.  In having agreed that, I think that, from that point of view, it needs to be looked at positively.

Additional pressures have been brought upon the Budget.  Irrespective of what the Chair of the Committee has said, failing to deal with the welfare reform issue will have and is having an input to our Budget as it is this year.  If Westminster were to decide to do something different along the line, we would take the benefits of that, but we are currently receiving penalties.  As that stands, we can ill afford to stand the reduction, which will hit not only DFP but every Department.  That is something, because it is a block grant that we receive, and that block grant will, therefore, have to be cut accordingly to manage that.  I appreciate that it has been said that we are watching what is happening in Westminster, but I think that there is more to be gleaned from what is happening within the process in this House as to what is going on in the Republic of Ireland.  There are those who are playing politics, with Northern Ireland as the small pawn in their bigger pitch.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Will the Member give way on that point?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Some dire warnings have been made about the financial impacts for future budgets.  On the radio this morning, it was mentioned that the Minister of Justice may well be writing to the Policing Board to say that, because of the cuts, he will be looking for £10 million to come off the police budget.  Will the Member agree that it is a mythological hope that, from across the water, Labour will in some way come riding to the rescue and abandon this and put us in a much better financial position?  Last week on the radio, even Eamonn McCann, somebody who is not of the same way of thinking of many of the people on these Benches, indicated that, if people were expecting the Labour Party to come riding like the cavalry to the rescue on this issue and then to pump a lot more money into the Budget, they were living in a fool's paradise.  With the exception of the bedroom tax, which has already been dealt with by imaginative means by the Executive, as has been indicated, this has focused not on Northern Ireland but on the opportunity for appearance of opposition to austerity in Dublin.  The problem is that, one way or the other, Sinn Féin, North and South, whichever way round you see it, is like being shackled to a corpse on its part.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan DUP 12:30 pm, 30th June 2014

I like the analogy and think that it is very apt.  I agree with the Member's comments.

Many comments have been made on how our public sector can work more effectively and efficiently, and that area needs some imaginative thinking.  Unfortunately, once you start to mention anything to do with public sector reform, there is always a fear that job losses will be incurred.  As a consequence, there will be those who will be opposed to any change.  I am not necessarily saying that we look at job losses but that we look at economies.  We must ensure that we invest to save, and some people maybe misinterpreted what the invest-to-save scheme is.  It needs to be made clear to all Departments that they should look at the initiative holistically and on the same basis.  On occasions, people have classed the invest-to-save scheme as not that at all.

The Committee carried out a flexible working inquiry.  Flexible working is alive and well in the Civil Service, including hot-desking and other aspects, and it could maybe be rationalised on the estate.  We should consider that.

We are working under the constraints of HM Treasury's five-year budget that was set in 2011.  We have to be positive about other areas.  We have come through what is probably the worst recession that the world, not just our economy, has encountered over the last 100 years.  Some people have said that there has never been anything like the cuts and the depth of recession that we have come through since the 1930s.  We hear announcements about jobs being created by the positive intervention of the Assembly and the Executive.  Some say that that is happening not because of the Assembly but in spite of it, which is not necessarily the case.  There are areas where we need to be positive to ensure that we not only grow our private sector economy but retain and support our public sector.

Nigel Smyth was on the radio this morning talking about the business sector and what needs to be dealt with to encourage inward investment into Northern Ireland.  Parties in the Chamber have a role to play to ensure that things go smoothly over the marching season, which could ultimately have an impact.  There are those who are stirring it up behind the scenes, and they are doing it quite effectively.  Those from the Benches opposite have decided to threaten to bring us back to where we were with certain parades, and that has a negative impact on our economy.

I support the Final Stage of the Budget (No. 2) Bill and hope and pray that everyone else will do the same so that we can allow the Bill to progress to its next stage.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, as an deis cainte a thabhairt domh sa díospóireacht seo ar an Bhille Buiséid uimhir a dó.  Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Budget (No. 2) Bill.

As you know, Mr Speaker, the SDLP has consistently outlined its opposition to the current Budget.  We did not vote for it at the beginning and we have, on a number of occasions, outlined a significant number of concerns relating to its shortcomings, chiefly in relation to the health service, job creation and housing, all of which are areas that have come under great pressure in the years since the Budget was passed.

However, having made our concerns known, we have also contributed in a positive and constructive way to all the debates around the budgetary issues.  We put forward proposals as to how we could manage Northern Ireland's finances differently, most notably by the introduction of an annual Budget process and the establishment of a Scottish-style commission to assess the opportunity for greater devolution of fiscal powers to Northern Ireland.  We also highlighted numerous areas from which more money could be raised, and we emphasised projects on which extra money could be spent for the benefit of people here.  Our mantra has consistently been that the whole purpose of devolution is so that Northern Ireland's leaders can do things differently in order to improve the lives of our people.  For those reasons, we will again not support the Budget Bill today.

The second element that I want to focus on is the need for a new Budget next year to take us through until the Assembly election.  The SDLP hopes that this new, one-year Budget will better provide for the people of Northern Ireland and we will fight to ensure that it does.  We have criticised the Executive in the past for developing a Budget without a Programme for Government.  Yes, the existing Programme for Government is at least a broad framework upon which the Executive can base their final budgetary year before the election; however, it is flawed and somewhat outdated three years on.  You could say that it is an old Ordnance Survey map when a satnav with real time updates is required.

So, I look forward, in hope, to the 2016 Programme for Government and Budget.  The SDLP believes that any future Northern Ireland Executive should publish a Programme for Government as their first act following the 2016 election.  Agreement on a Programme for Government would demonstrate unity of purpose and commitment to delivery by the parties involved, alongside the provision of measurable budgetary targets that are available for scrutiny by the Assembly and through public consultation.  Such action would follow examples of best practice set by coalition Governments in the Republic of Ireland and in the UK.

Finally and most importantly, as we look towards the 2015 Budget and the 2016 Budget and Programme for Government, the SDLP will continue to highlight how those documents must reflect the needs of people here.  The North's consumers have had to deal with a jump of over 20% in the price of goods since the start of the global economic crisis.  At the start of the year, the Ulster Bank highlighted the key economic issue for 2014 as being the cost of living crisis, stating:

"Normally in economic downturns financial hardship is confined to those people out of work.  However, in recent years, a growing number of households in work are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet."

This is because wages have not kept pace with inflation, climbing only 10% in the six years since the peak of the housing market bubble in August 2007, compared to an 18·8% rise in the UK consumer price index.  In fact, that means that most people took a pay cut of 8·8% between 2007 and 2013.  To tackle this, a new Budget must begin to create a living wage society.  A number of elements are required to do that, and the first, of course, is job creation.

The SDLP has consistently highlighted the need for job creation outside Belfast and capital investment in infrastructure, to underpin economic growth in the long term, and investment in shovel-ready capital programmes, which boost employment in the construction industry, to stimulate the economy in the short to medium term.  Even the coalition Government in London have realised that and proposed an Infrastructure Bill for England.  Sadly, however, the Budget failed to adequately prioritise such development.

The second element necessary to creating a living-wage society is protecting the interests of low-paid workers and ensuring that their conditions and wage levels increase.  Sadly, the SDLP was the only Assembly party to vote against the increase in pension age for public servants and the reduction in redundancy payments for civil servants.  In doing so, the SDLP demonstrated its commitment to protecting the interests of hard-pressed households and trade union members.  It would have been welcome if the rest of the Assembly had also done so.

It is also imperative that we tackle the scourge of zero-hour contracts, the use of which can mask whether an employee is truly receiving a living wage.  In recent times, we have seen an increase in zero-hour contracts, and the volatile job market has meant that many low-paid workers and those on short-term contracts are finding it harder than ever before to pay their family bills.

It is clear that the Northern Ireland Executive must take action on those issues to develop the North as a living-wage economy.  Food and energy prices continue to rise, and the governor of the Bank of England is telling us to expect an interest rate rise this very year.  If the Executive and the Assembly fail to take action in budgetary planning, our hard-working households will continue to suffer.

I thank you for the opportunity to contribute to today's debate, and I will leave it at that for the moment.

Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP

At the Second Stage of this Bill, I referred to several resource bids that were anticipated to be made in the June monitoring round.  These were classified as "inescapable" or "high priority".  I asked why they were being treated by way of in-year monitoring instead of being included in the core Budget.  The question remains unanswered, and now that we appear to have major problems with agreeing June monitoring, the fate of those bids, and the important work that they are expected to finance, becomes a crucial issue.  Perhaps the Minister will advise us on that matter and on whether any steps are necessary to alter the Budget figures that are before us.

I gave him two examples:  £160 million to health and some £2 million to the Victims and Survivors Service.  Again, I would appreciate it if the Minister could advise on that.  There was also a planned capital surrender of £5·5 million.  Is that also likely to be available from OFMDFM in the June monitoring round?

Another concern that I and the Ulster Unionist Party have is the carrying forward of year-end underspends from 2013-14 through the Budget exchange scheme.  No provision was made in the Estimates for that, as it is usually allocated in the June monitoring.  It may be contained in the spring Supplementary Estimates, but that is a long way off, and we really need to know what we are talking about now.

The major issue with our Budget is that we do not know how welfare reform will affect it.  No decision has been made, and penalties are being applied to the block grant.  Again, an update from the Minister on that would be appreciated.

When we last debated the Budget, I was interested in knowing the detail of the £800 million that was being held in the centre.  What is the situation in the centre?

Someone once said that all politics is local, and, just to prove that is so, I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that the £9 million remains included in the DEL figures for the performing arts, technology and innovation centre at the South Eastern Regional College in Bangor.  That work has been eagerly awaited for many years.

My colleague Robin Swann, as a member of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development, raised an important issue earlier this month.  At its meeting on 3 June, the Committee discussed a wind farm development and anticipated that it would generate savings of £1 million in 2014-15.  Major development and planning issues remain to be resolved, so it appears highly unlikely that those savings can be achieved in the current year.  So why are they included the Budget?  That is totally unrealistic.

As a contingent action — its words, not mine — the Department has stated that Forest Service intends to use additional income from the sale of timber to mitigate that risk.  I wonder whether the Minister agrees that the Department's strategy in this instance is open to major criticism and, indeed, is significantly flawed.  Its budget is based on environmental and green issues to generate savings, but those cannot realistically be achieved in the time frame.  The reality is that Forest Service will be forced to embark upon a very anti-environmental deforestation programme, which will have been authorised by the Department to meet the financial deficit that it has created.  Surely that is misleading, to say the least, in any budget plan.

My colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party will raise other points and contribute to today's debate in due course.  Before I finish, I would like to raise a point that has been a concern for me for several years.  I last raised it during the Second Stage debate, and the Minister will not be surprised that I raise it now.  We need to have a financial process that is clear, accountable and fit for purpose.  We do not have that at present, virtually everyone has agreed.  Perhaps the Minister could again detail any progress since our last discussion on this by way of introducing the new process, which will greatly improve the situation.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance 12:45 pm, 30th June 2014

I rise on behalf of the Alliance Party to speak in support of the Bill, despite those areas where we have serious concerns.  Nevertheless, the progress of the Assembly and Executive requires that we support a finance Bill.

When we debated the Supply resolution for the Main Estimates in early June, I noted the looming crisis faced by public services due to the failure of the implementation of welfare reform.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I return to that subject.  We are nearly a month further down the line, and it would appear there has been little progress, given that last week the Social Development Minister told me in the House that the matter is sitting at the Executive table and that is as far as it goes in his contribution.

I ask the Finance Minister directly:  can he tell the Assembly what he is doing to meaningfully engage with those who are blocking welfare reform?  It is all very well to lay the blame squarely at the door of those who are blocking the legislation.  However, does the Minister feel that the dire financial consequences could be communicated more effectively?  Sinn Féin and the SDLP are either unmoved by the figures we are talking about coming out of Health, Education and other Departments or they are not convinced that the situation is as bad as the Minister has portrayed it.

I say again to them that they are playing a very dangerous game.  As well as the penalties imposed, Northern Ireland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, is facing further substantial cuts in the coming years, which will also have to be addressed.  Perhaps the Minister would like to outline what he considers the extent of that to be.  Therefore, it is unlikely to change even if there is a change of Government following next year's Westminster election.

We share many of the concerns about the changes to welfare that are being implemented by the United Kingdom Government.  We opposed those changes at every stage of the Bill's passage at Westminster.  However, the concern of Members across the House does not negate the fact that the UK Government have made it perfectly clear that they are not prepared to give us further concessions.

Members need to be prepared to take difficult decisions or we will face a financial disaster.  I was expecting to see some of the results of that demonstrated in the June monitoring round, but that has not yet appeared.  Can the Finance Minister tell the House where it is, given that today is the last day of June.  He previously told us that we should expect a 1·5% cut across the board in June, which will have a profound effect on the delivery of services.  We need to know what the cuts will be and how the services will be affected. 

Until welfare reform is resolved, we will continue to face major uncertainties.  We can debate Budget allocations, but, until the Assembly faces up to its responsibilities, we do not know what further sanctions could and will arise and what the implications will be for all Departments.  The only way the matter can be resolved is through the working group that has been set up, and I encourage the working group to redouble its efforts.  We need agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin.  We are under no illusion that that requires the First Minister and deputy First Minister to reach consensus on the matter.  Today is time for leadership, not procrastination, when it comes to our Budget.  It is time for responsibility to be taken and for the public to be told the reality about public finances.  We support the Bill.

Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Budget Bill Final Stage today.  I am speaking as the SDLP spokesperson on health.

The health portfolio takes up a large proportion of the Budget, with a net cash requirement approaching £4·5 billion.  In that context, every pound is significant, and it is for that reason that the SDLP has sought out evidence of measurement around how the money apportioned to health is being used.  It is a prudent and reasonable approach, and so prudent and reasonable is it that the House has, on several occasions, backed motions brought by the SDLP to make that very point.  Is health funding being used prudently?  Is there wastage?  Are we measuring across that spectrum?  Those are logical questions that must be answered.

Where is the money going?  In the Main Estimates, some of the areas marked for funding are as follows:  £209 million for health, community and social care services; £102 million for dental services; £487 million for pharmaceutical services; the trusts are taking a sizeable amount of £3·6 billion; and the Business Services Organisation (BSO) weighs in with some £36 million.  In pharmacy, the Minister is proposing prescription charges, but has there been an interrogation of how we are spending that nearly £500 million, particularly around the use of branded drugs and general drug use and wastage? 

Alongside all that and more, we have a change agenda, Transforming Your Care, to fund.  That is currently underfunded.  Bids have been made and not matched.  A sum of £28 million was requested last year; £9 million was received.  That puts a question mark over the whole Transforming Your Care process.  It is a significant underspend and may get worse.  For example, community health and social care services receive over £200 million in total.  The Health Committee, through its engagement with community care stakeholders, has constantly heard of the same problem:  they are not being funded.  Imaginative community initiatives that have proven their success, such as the one operating in the Western Trust to prevent long-term heart problems, could not sustain themselves as the investment simply was not made.  How is that transforming your care?  They cited a convoluted commissioning process and overall weak community health infrastructure as the problem.  Let us remember that the objective of TYC was to utilise that sector more.  We were supposed to fund the community side, and that was supposed to take the heat off the very expensive A&E and hospital side.  It has not happened. 

So, where do we draw our conclusions?  We can see the £209 million in the Estimates but we cannot see where it will be put in practice.  Another example is the BSO, to which the Estimate is £36 million, but we know that there has been a catalogue of errors with the new pay system that the BSO manages.  How much has that cost over what was initially anticipated?  Has that been accounted for or is that merely chalked up as wastage?  Transforming Your Care was agreed upon by most when it was first presented.  The overall aims, as I said, were laudable.  However, the SDLP has serious concerns about how it is being measured. 

In the last debate on this Budget, I read out the contributions from unions on TYC.  Some think that it is about privitisation, and others simply think that it is a cost-cutting mechanism.  The Royal College of Nursing really does not know what it is.  It is saying that today in real time.  That is not a historic comment.  I remind the Minister that the respected community and voluntary associations said last year that their concern was that the opportunity will be taken to save money by stealth, that not all the savings will be recycled back into the system and that more resources may be required than are currently allocated during the transitional period.  I suspect that they are getting close to the nub.  Those opinions are testament to the very point I am making:  Transforming Your Care implementation is not being measured sufficiently.  There are not clear points of progress that the SDLP can see. 

In response to our questions, the Minister gave an update on the 99 targets initially present in Transforming Your Care.  Very few of those have been fully implemented and, at worst, they are haphazard.  They are stop, they are start and they are certainly not measured.  The limited successes that the Minister was able to outline pale in comparison to the number of targets that were stagnant.  For example, one of the claims was that an information infrastructure had been established for information on mental health.  The reality is that that is a website, and it is a year late and still has not started.

There can be no doubt that the party opposite brings welfare reform into this debate, as it already has done.  However, I have to ask this:  if welfare reform is coming and cuts to budgets along with it, is it not now more imperative that we measure our current system to make sure that it is as efficient as it can be, given the significance of the spend that there is in the Health Department?  Should we not now analyse in detail the millions of pounds of transitional TYC money?  That includes the £3·6 billion that has been given to the trusts, the operational costs of the Health and Social Care Board and the huge monetary resource given to administration, which, in the Estimates, takes up a column of its own:  admin costs for community care, £26 million; admin costs for ophthalmic care, £96 million.

 

It is worth noting that this House, as I said on a number of occasions, has backed the SDLP in motions calling for measurement.  Instead of acting on that call for measurement and the reasonable request from the House, the response from the Health Minister and the Finance Minister has been to scaremonger.  During the last debate, the Finance Minister stressed the point that simultaneous press releases had not gone out from him and his party colleague, the Health Minister, in relation to funding.  I remind him that, when Minister Poots was warning of the dangers of a Health deficit, Minister Hamilton was echoing his words at exactly the same time.  Both stories went up on the BBC on the same day, 15 minutes apart from each other.  So, instead of having a Finance Minister who is measuring and scrutinising the Health spend, we see party counterparts cheerleading each other.  That is not accountability, and it is in stark contrast to how the former Finance Minister treated the situation when Mr McGimpsey was in charge.

In relation to cancer drugs, Minister Poots told the public that, in order to get the funding for increased drugs spending, we need to impose prescription charges.  He did not tell us that he was already receiving money through the pharmaceutical price regulation scheme (PPRS), which may be used for this very purpose.  In fact, his Department could not say where the £9 million given to the North in the last three years through PPRS had gone.  I ask again today:  where has that money gone, how much are we getting now and what are we spending it on?  Given the nature of the PPRS deal — that money should be spent on innovative drugs — where is the new money going to be spent?  Just this morning, we saw a press release from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) in relation to the new deal.  In this quarter alone, the Department of Health, nationally, will get back £74 million.  It is projected that our share of that will be 9·92%.  We can all do the maths.  That is in the first quarter, and it is going to be replicated over the next three quarters.  At a rough estimate, just shy of £30 million may come back.  It should be spent on innovative drugs and is a comprehensive and solid answer to the Minister's claims that only prescription charges and welfare reform will answer this issue.  The money has been there, the money is there and the money will be there for cancer drugs and the development and encouragement of innovative drugs.

Incidentally, it does not end there.  If we incorporate this, there is the potential for us to develop our biomedical research and biotech industry around this.  There can be jobs, taxes and further encouragement to our overall economy as a result of taking a holistic approach to this.  The Minister, I suggest, should jump off the prescription charges and welfare reform arguments and use the money that is there.  It will benefit patients on cancer drugs and this society as a whole.

The point is clear: health is a huge budget, and every pound spent should be measured in terms of its outcome.  The SDLP does not see evidence that the Department, the board or the Minister is undertaking the measurement that is required.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party 1:00 pm, 30th June 2014

I did not expect to be called so quickly, Mr Speaker, but thank you for that.

The Members from my party who have spoken, Mr Bradley and Mr McKinney, who has just sat down, talked very eloquently about some of the issues that face us.  Mr McKinney laid out clearly the issues with the health service, and Mr Bradley spoke more generally.  I will take up some of the issues and then, as I usually do, revert to talking about Derry, as you might have imagined that I would.  I will probably try to weave Derry into all the other issues as well — I am a bit like Mr McElduff in that respect. 

One important issue that Mr Bradley touched on was the idea of a Calman-style commission to look at the opportunities for the North around fiscal powers.  There has been much debate about corporation tax.  I do not believe that it is a silver bullet, but I do believe that it is a very important issue.  Anybody who has been to the States and spoken to anybody there about trying to attract investment to this part of the world will know that we are up against it, because our direct competitor — I argue that it should not be our direct competitor but our partner — is the Republic of Ireland, just across the border, which is able to offer a much more attractive package.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member raises very interesting points, not just on corporation tax but on the general range of fiscal powers, the Calman commission and so forth.  Given the current situation in Scotland, with the referendum on independence, and the fact that all the major parties have conceded that Scotland deserves to receive and will receive greater fiscal powers in relation to its self-governance, is there not an even stronger argument that we in Northern Ireland should also seek stronger powers in fiscal matters?

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his intervention.  His point is very well made.  I have a view on what might happen in Scotland in the next few months, and I hope that a certain side of the campaign is very successful.  I think that it will have an impact here that might be immeasurable, and I am not sure that everyone has quite grasped how important it is for us.  The Member is right: Scotland will not be governed in the same way after the referendum, no matter what happens.  If they get independence, they will obviously have much greater fiscal powers; if they do not, "devo max" is, I think, very much on the cards, and we need to start looking at what impact that could have on us. 

We also need to think a bit more creatively.  I keep telling people that we have a 12·5% rate of corporation tax in our city — in Muff, Bridgend or Killea.  There are opportunities for us to work on a cross-border basis with the Irish Government and the organisations in the South that are trying to attract investment to the Republic.  We can do that by asking them to look at a cross-border enterprise zone for the north-west.  I know that there was a recent announcement for Coleraine — good luck to Coleraine — but we have been asking for one for quite a bit longer.  We think that the cross-border element provides a tremendous opportunity, and we have everything in place.  The area around Bridgend in Donegal has that very attractive tax system.  Look at one company that has relocated from Derry to Burnfoot, just down the road: E&I Engineering employs hundreds of people, and I think that about 80% of them are from Derry.  They spend money in Derry and buy houses in Derry.  The company may pay tax in the South, but both sides of the border benefit.  We need to start looking at ideas like that to reinforce the fact that we should not be in competition with the South but in partnership.  It is not about us on this side of the House waving a tricolour in anybody's face; it is about common sense.  We had a document called 'North South Makes Sense', because it just does.  Nobody's allegiance to any nationality or nation is threatened by that. There are massive opportunities in the way in which we do things, particularly in the economy, that should run across every Department.  I know that in our city and in other places the border becomes less and less relevant in people's everyday lives, but it should be less relevant in government policies, particularly those for the economy.

Mr Bradley also spoke of the need for Budgets and Programmes for Government to be done in unison.  The idea that we all turn up after an election and we are all in government and then we have a row about what the Budget and the Programme for Government should be does not make any real sense.  I would far rather see parties go into a negotiation around a Programme for Government and a Budget that has a connection to it at the beginning of the term.  We have an opportunity in the final year of the mandate to begin that process, and, hopefully, at least after 2016's elections, we can start to do things a little differently.

That brings me to the important point.  One of the major issues in our city is that we have had countless plans.  We have loads of plans.  We know exactly what needs to be done on the economy for Derry, and it is important that that be done, not just for Derry but for Northern Ireland.  We do not want to see queues of people leaving our city or any other place in the North for Australia or England and never coming back, nor do we want to see people continuously claiming benefits when they could contribute to the economy in a very positive way. We had the answer, and it was called the "One Plan".  I know that the Executive seemed very committed to it, because, when I was mayor, I stood beside the First Minister and the deputy First Minister when they came to the Waterside in Derry to launch it.  That was after 18 months of people in the community and business sectors and all the local statutory agencies and political parties getting together. It was a difficult process and maybe not one that anyone would want to repeat.  We came up with 11 catalytic projects that would make a huge impact, in our view, on the city's economy and social deprivation indices.

We all signed up to the plan, which was pretty much unheard of.  It was a great process, in that political parties from in here were able to work together out there, somewhere else, like we do in a lot of areas in the city, and come up with a plan that we thought the Government should adopt.  As I said, the First Minister and the deputy First Minister came down, launched it and praised us for doing all the hard work, and then, when we saw the first draft of the Programme for Government, it was not even mentioned.  We kicked up a fuss, and the strategy board in Derry wrote a strongly worded letter, and then it was mentioned.  It said that the Executive were committed to developing the One Plan, with particular reference to the sites at Ebrington and Fort George. We had already developed the plan: the problem was that we needed it implemented.  Unfortunately, if it was not going to be in the Programme for Government, it was not going to be in any of the ministerial commitments after that.  For me, that was a major mistake, and we have ended up seeing the outworkings of that.

We had a fantastic week in Derry, with probably hundreds of thousands of people walking along the quay.  It was like walking through Cannes or somewhere like that.  They were looking at yachts and spending money, enjoying the weather and one another's company.  There were people from every background getting together.  Derry can do things like that very well, but, unless we get the economic drivers and the infrastructural fundamentals correct, those things will come and go.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I detect a certain smugness from my colleague from Foyle, and I can understand it perfectly.  I accept that Derry is the envy of the rest of Northern Ireland in how unionists and nationalists can get together and carry out the kind of fete that happened last week or, indeed, last year.  However, does the Member agree that there is one thing missing: transport infrastructure?  Derry is, I think, the only city in Europe that is not connected by a motorway, and it still struggles with a railway that is hugely successful.  I was on the train on Saturday, and it was packed, but it irritates me when somebody on a bicycle can complete the journey to Belfast more quickly.  Yes, you got the boats, but only for a week.  They are away now.  We also need that ferry between Magilligan and Greencastle.  I know that our colleagues in Belfast in particular must feel envious of the maiden city's success, but surely it is time to put the capital investment into our second city and make it the showpiece that unionists and nationalists up there have worked hard for.  They have won the arguments.  What is needed now is the money.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his eloquent intervention.  The House will probably thank him for shortening my speech because he said most of what I wanted to say.  He is right.  The point that I was making is that we can do fantastic things when people in Derry get together and decide to work together to get these things done.  We can attract world-class events.  It is a pity that Radio Ulster seemed a wee bit more interested in Glastonbury than in the Clipper festival this morning, but that is another issue. 

The Member is right: unless we get the infrastructural development correct, we cannot reach our full potential.  We are not asking for anything special; we are asking for the opportunities and tools to do these things for ourselves.  There needs to be a proper road network that does not just end in one part of Northern Ireland and does not go to another part where a huge number of people live.  A couple of weeks ago, a man cycled to Belfast more quickly than he could go by train.  He beat the train.  What does that tell us about where we are and where we need to be?  I could probably do it.  You could even do it, Mr Weir. [Laughter.] Mr McKay could definitely do it. Another point is that, when you try to get a train from Derry to Dublin, you find that the Dublin train leaves Belfast five minutes before the Derry one arrives.  You would nearly think that it was deliberate. [Laughter.] There is another issue.  I will not focus my anger about it on Mr Farry because I think that he gets all the focus on it when it is a bigger issue.  It goes back to the point that it was not put into the Programme for Government.  It is the issue of the development of Magee.  It is nothing to do with welfare reform, as Mr Farry told me last week: it is a 50-year-old debate.  We were even debating it back when John Hume and the unionist mayor came to this place with a lot of other people to demand a proper university for our city.  The One Plan commitment is for 9,400 places by 2020.  The way things are going at the minute, we will not make that.  Again, it is not just about us asking for more places for the university so that people do not have to go to Liverpool; it is about underpinning the city's economy.  It is not just about the number of students but about the type of courses and being able to create jobs and attract jobs to the city.  It just needs to be done.  We send 15,000 students from the North somewhere else every year.  That is a university a year that leaves here.  We spend all the money to educate them in our schools, then we send them somewhere else.  Eighty per cent of them do not come home and do not contribute to our economy. 

I know that it is kind of broken-record stuff from us.  We are often called whingers.  It is not about whingeing; it is about asking for what is fair and right.  Derry has proven that, given the opportunities and tools, we can deliver something very good and exciting for the people of the city and the North of Ireland.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I genuinely want to thank Members for their wide-ranging contributions today.  It is important that the impacts of the Bill on local people are debated fully in the context of a local Budget.  I welcome the contributions today.  I will do my best to respond to the issues raised as comprehensively as possible during the rest of the debate. At the outset of my remarks, I thank again the Chairman and the Committee for Finance and Personnel for their assistance in the accelerated passage of the Bill.  The support of the Committee enables the Bill to receive Royal Assent by 31 July, ensuring that the flow of funding to public services will continue uninterrupted throughout the remainder of the year.

I will address some, if not all, of the comments made by Members this afternoon, and I turn first to those of the Chairman, Mr McKay.  In his capacity as Chair, he mentioned the development of a memorandum of understanding between my Department and the Committee on the Budget process.  I am content to support that in principle and will respond in more detail to the Committee in due course. I will say one thing, though, which is important.  Given the opportunity that a one-year 2015-16 Budget presents to develop and test a draft memorandum of understanding against the one-year process, I am content to do that.  However, to pick up on a point that Mr Cree regularly makes in the Chamber when I am here, that is not a substitute in any way for a fundamental review and reform of our financial process, which has been long outstanding and is very much needed.

We have gone through the process again, and the criticisms about this Budget process were the same as were made about the previous process and the one before that and so on and so on.  That shows the need for that reform not just because of the openness and transparency that it will bring to an important process — the Budget — but because it will hopefully lead to a better use of resources.  If Members and those who use money to provide services can see better where it is spent, you would hope that it would lead to a better use of resources.  I throw it back to the Committee Chairman, given the party that he is a member of, and urge him to bring whatever influence he can to bear on his party colleagues who are not as enthusiastic about the review of the financial process.  He urged me to be reforming — I thank him for that — but I also encourage him to be an advocate for reform when it comes to the review of the financial process.

If Mr McKay reflects on his remarks, he will see that he said that the PAC report talked about the incompetence of DFP being shocking.  To be fair, there may be occasions on which he may have the right to say that, but I think that, in this instance, he was referring to DWP's incompetence as being shocking.

It is fortuitous that the Minister for Social Development has arrived not just so that he can hear what I have to say but so that he can help me if I get flummoxed and get the information wrong.

As for criticisms of the roll-out of welfare reform or, indeed, some of the elements of welfare reform that have been legislated for across the water, who would not criticise many aspects of the Welfare Reform Act, as it is now, across the water?  I can stand proudly and say that members of my party were in the House of Commons to vote against many elements of the Bill when it was going through the House of Commons.  As a party, we have been consistent in referencing those parts of the Bill, even the Bill that was initially before this House, and in saying which bits we did not like.  We are content with some bits.  Everybody in the House should endorse the principles of trying to make work pay and trying to simplify the benefits process.  Nonetheless, there are bits of the welfare reform agenda that are not what we would propose if we had a blank sheet of paper.  That is why, within a week of taking up office, Minister McCausland dispatched himself to London to negotiate with DWP to ensure that the exemptions and flexibilities that could be negotiated were negotiated, and he has been exceptionally successful in doing that.

We have a package of measures that, while not ameliorating all of the worst of welfare reform, certainly goes some way to doing that and reaching that objective, to the extent that the bedroom tax will not affect people in Northern Ireland in the way that it affects people in Great Britain.  We also got various payment flexibilities, which were demanded not just by Members of the House but by people outside it in the community and those dealing with vulnerable people.  As I have said in the House before, this package of measures is the envy not just of English MPs but of my governmental counterparts in Scotland and Wales.  We should be very pleased with what the Minister for Social Development has been able to achieve.

Mr McKay ran through a series of reports — I am glad to hear that he also reads 'The Economist' — about IT delays and issues with implementation.  Whilst I am sympathetic to the points that he raises and, no doubt, my ministerial colleague is also sympathetic, they are, in many respects, immaterial to the debate that we are having in Northern Ireland.  We are faced with a Government in London who remain ideologically committed to doing this, even though they face escalating costs and delays in the implementation of ICT systems and the negative implications of those things for the implementation of the new benefits and the changes to existing benefits.  They are determined that their vision of welfare reform will be implemented.  As Members in the House know, without me having to rehearse it all again, we are bound by the 1998 Act to follow parity and ensure that the system of benefits that will apply in London, Newcastle, Manchester or Liverpool is applicable here in Northern Ireland.  Despite the delays and rising costs of implementation, it is very clear that the Government in London are proceeding.

The cost for us of not proceeding, as I have said in the House many times during the Budget process, is that we have already lost £13 million.  That is £13 million worth of services that could be delivered and are not being delivered.  I remind Members, particularly those opposite who come with a list of very meritorious projects that they would like to see developed in their constituency or for the benefit of people across Northern Ireland, that losing £13 million from our Budget does not help the Assembly or the Executive in funding those projects, never mind dealing with existing pressures.  What we will lose will rise to an additional £87 million this year, and so it goes on.  It will be over £100 million next year and more and more as the years go on.  This is not something that will impact on services in the future; it is starting to impact on services now.

As for my party cosying up to the Tory party, I note that the party opposite has been seeking meetings with the Prime Minister on a one-to-one basis since he came into office in 2010.  I understand that he has finally acceded to their request and is meeting them this week.  I do not know what is on the menu, I do not know what they will be entertained with and I am not even sure what they will discuss, but it is rich for the party opposite to lecture my party about our relationship with any party in Westminster when they are running around trying to pal up to the Tory party as well for whatever reason.

I will jump ahead a little and refer to Stewart Dickson's comments about whether the parties that oppose movement on welfare reform are unmoved by the figures or believe that they are not as bad.  I think that it is a bit of both.  I think that they are unmoved by the figures.  I will play devil's advocate, which is difficult for me to do, but £13 million being lost probably does not sound like a lot of money in the grand scheme of the Budget.  However, when you increase that to £87 million, it will be a grand total of £100 million, and then you will have £100 million next year and then more than that.  Then it will start to bite, and they will realise that it is as bad as we have been saying. It would be bad enough if we were just losing £100 million out of our Budget this year, unfathomable as that is, but, when you have the pressure from Ministers such as the Health Minister, the Justice Minister, the Education Minister or other Ministers coming into the Chamber and saying, "I am already under pressure to the tune of x hundreds of millions of pounds, and you are taking money off my budget to pay for these penalties" —

Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP

Which Departments does the Minister think could lose out on that £13 million?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

To address Mr Robinson's point, ultimately, it is a matter for the Executive to agree on how best they think those pressures of the £13 million, the £87 million to come and the future pressures that will affect next year's Budget are to be dealt with.  It is hard to escape the conclusion that, given the quantity of reductions and pressures involved, no one should be immune.  That is not a position that I relish, and the Minister for Social Development will shift uneasily in his seat at hearing that news, as it will put pressure on his budget as well. Unfortunately, it is the reality of the situation that we face.  If we face that degree of reduction, I do not think that any Minister in the Executive can or will be immune from that degree of reduction, critical as all the services that they provide are.

It is something that is being discussed, and, while I cannot get into the granular detail of the June monitoring round, to finish Mr Dickson's points, we are discussing a June monitoring round.  It is the most challenging monitoring round that the Assembly has faced since it came back in 2007, because of the pressures that we are under.  The Member said that we needed to know what cuts there would be.  That is precisely the point.  The Social Development Minister will agree that I have been laying out in fairly stark terms to colleagues the degree of reduction required to deal with the existing welfare penalties and those that are yet to come in this year, as well as addressing pressures that have built up at the centre anyway.  I have been putting in fairly stark terms the difficult choices and tough decisions that I think Executive colleagues have to make now so that Departments have the certainty that they need to plan for the remainder of the financial year.  That is creating a stumbling block.  I suppose that we would expect that, given the degree of cuts and reductions that there are.

I go back to the original point: when Members opposite and the Ministers from those parties see in bald terms what those figures are and what it means for their Department and then take it back to their Department and calculate what it means in service reduction, they will, I hope, start to understand.  Unfortunately, however, many still seem to be unmoved by the degree of reduction required to deal with the penalties that we face.

I will go back to some comments that Mr McKay made on reform and the use of technology.  I will highlight some of the achievements that we have made, and I am grateful to him for highlighting the fact that some things have been achieved, not just the use of technology, which I will come to in a second, but in property management.  Since 2009, the property division in my Department has saved over £15 million in rent, rates and service charges by providing much more modern, higher-density, open plan office space.  IT Assist, one of the shared services for which Enterprise Shared Services in my Department is responsible, has reduced the cost per user for computers and telecommunications equipment by over 30%.  It is not just about reduction; it is about service improvement.  Our own PAC described our prompt payment work in Account NI, where over 90% of invoices are paid to suppliers within 10 days, as world-class. 

I agree with the Member that the better use of technology is a key driver and a major part of my reform agenda.  This year alone, we have seen the launch of initiatives like Spatial NI, through which all of our mapping and geographical information has been put online and made accessible to the public.  All of our genealogical information has also been put online through the General Register Office.  Those are two small examples of where it can happen.  The next phase, which will be led by the digital transformation service, which, again, is within DFP, will be to take many more of those services and put them online where people want to use them and where, of course, it saves us a considerable amount of money.  As I am sure the Member and the House will appreciate, making such a degree of change and reform is not always simple and straightforward.  It takes some time to roll it out.

Mr McKay also talked about companies coming to Departments selling technology.  We have got to be careful, in the first instance, particularly around procurement law, that somebody does not just walk into the Department headquarters and say, "I've got something that will revolutionise how you work".  They may well have something that will revolutionise how we work, but we cannot simply have Departments buying from the first person who comes into their offices.  It is important that Departments identify need first and then go out to purchase the appropriate technology, which will save money but also improve the customer experience.

Dominic Bradley who, up until now, has been a loyal and faithful servant at Budget times — he is missing now — rehearsed pretty much every point that he made about the Budget.  He talked about the 2015-16 Budget and the need to better provide for the people of Northern Ireland.  I agree.  As a principle, better providing for the people of Northern Ireland is, surely, why we are all here.  In response to Mr Bradley I say that, in a situation where we already have less money coming from Treasury — there are about 1·5% to 2% reductions to our 2015-16 Budget, compared with 2014-15 — and we have all the welfare penalties that we talked about, it is hard to see how those aspirations can be met.  It is bad enough that we have that 1·5% to 2% reduction, but to have all of those additional penalties slapped on top of us makes providing better for the people of Northern Ireland that bit more difficult than it already is.

Mr Bradley also said that the economy needed to do better and, as he did at Second Stage, proceeded into a bit of a moan about job creation.  He bemoaned the Executive's record on job creation, the fact that they did not spread that out beyond Belfast and the thinking that there was some sort of ring around Belfast beyond which job creation did not extend.  I thought that that was incredibly ironic, because, as we stand here today, 484 new jobs are being announced by First Derivatives in Newry, which, I think, is in the constituency that Mr Bradley represents.

I think that, on reflection, he will welcome the record of the Executive in creating jobs not just in Belfast; we are supporting the creation of high-quality jobs in places like Newry as well.

He talked about the Programme for Government.  There is an ongoing review of the Programme for Government that will look at the extension of existing targets for a year and the creation of new targets.  He said that we should consider using something other than an old Ordnance Survey map.  As the Minister responsible for Ordnance Survey, I am very proud of our mapping; it is one of the very good services that we provide in Land and Property Services (LPS).  He encouraged me to use a satnav more.  As somebody who has just advocated technology in response to Mr McKay's comments, I caution about the use of satnav because, in my constituency, poor people have articulated lorries being sent up their street even though it is a cul-de-sac.  That is a bit like Mr Bradley's satnav; he wants to spend lots of money, but he does not offer me any ways in which I can raise that money.  That sounds a bit like a road to nowhere.

Mr Cree raised a number of very detailed points, which, if need be, I will try to respond to in writing.  He talked about pressures — I think that I referred to them in response to Mr Dickson — developing in-year, such as £160 million in Health and some in the Victims and Survivors Service.  He asked whether budgetary adjustment was required for those.  It will be required only if decisions are taken in this monitoring round or future ones to fund those pressures in some way.  The adjustment would then happen in the Budget Bill early next year.  It was very narrow of him to talk about the North Down constituency, SERC and DEL's work at Bangor with the performing arts.  Again, I can come back to him, but there is nothing I am aware of to suggest that that money is not there.  However, that is primarily a matter for the Minister for Employment and Learning.

I welcome Fearghal McKinney's backhanded admission that he was wrong in terms of the release of two statements by the Health — he is shaking his head; he is not saying that he was wrong.  The record shows that there was not a simultaneous release of statements by my Department and the Health Department in mid-May, as the Member suggested at Second Stage.  I corrected him at Second Stage.  I thought that he was being humble, and I would have taken it in that regard had he backed away from his previous statement.  The former UTV man was perhaps blaming the BBC for putting them on its website at the same time.  I am happy —

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Oh, you want to get into this one.  OK.

Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for giving way.  The point is that the Health Minister made a point about prescription charges and welfare reform, saying that there was no option other than the alternatives.  The Finance Minister made the same point at the same time on a programme on the BBC.  Both of them went up on the BBC within 15 minutes of each other.  The Health Minister and the Finance Minister were singing off the same hymn sheet at the same time, saying the same things.  Where is the scrutiny in that?  Where is the scrutiny that was demonstrated by Mr Wilson, the former Finance Minister, when he was interrogating the Health Minister Mr McGimpsey and suggesting ways for him to save money?  The Finance Minister was backing the Health Minister, and the Health Minister was backing the Finance Minister.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The point is not what the Member has said; the point is that, at Second Stage, Mr McKinney questioned whether I had released both statements, whether the Health Minister had released both statements, or whether the DUP press office had released both statements.  He talked about two statements being released when, in fact, no statement was released by me or the Health Minister.  It was inaccurate of the Member to come to the House —

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

No.  I have heard enough.

It was inaccurate of the Member to come to the House at Second Stage and say that, on a date in May, the Health Minister and I colluded in some way and released simultaneous press statements.  No press statements were issued on that day by me or the Health Minister

I shudder to think that the Health Minister and I might have some sort of symmetry and be working together and trying to do things to provide services better for the people of Northern Ireland, as Mr Bradley wanted me to do.  I shudder to think that I would have a working relationship with Mr McCausland.  Maybe I should do business by being at loggerheads with party colleagues.  Mr Ford is in the House; he and I have a very good working relationship even though we are not members of the same party.  The colour is draining from his face as I say that I have a good working relationship with him.  He is looking for more money.  Maybe he does not think that it is a good working relationship, but I like to pride myself on having a good working relationship with the Minister of Justice, as indeed I do with other Ministers.  That is what I should be doing.  I should be working with and listening to them.  I cannot address all the concerns that they have; I do not have the money to do that.  However, I try to work with Mr Ford and Mr McCausland, and I certainly try to work constructively with Mr Poots, when he is responsible for spending 45% of the Budget in Northern Ireland.  That should be welcomed by the party opposite.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I thank the Minister for giving way.  He may be being a little bit harsh on Mr McKinney.  Surely the Minister is only emulating the good working relationship that exists between the leader of the SDLP and the deputy leader?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I suppose that, if that is all that you have to go on, that is maybe what you would expect.  Mr McKinney said at the start of his comments that he was speaking as health spokesman, but he then went on to give a speech that was by and large about operational matters that are better dealt with by the Health Minister.  This is the last year of the 2011-15 Budget, and spending on health has increased from £4·3 billion in 2010-11 to £4·65 billion in 2014-15, which represents an 8·3% increase over those three years.  It will expand again this year.  Last year alone, over £100 million in additional expenditure was granted to the Department of Health.  The Health Minister has made £490 million of savings between 2011-12 and 2013-14. 

I also heard Mr McKinney criticising the Minister on the non-delivery of his Transforming Your Care policy.  I did not know that the SDLP was supportive of that policy.  I am sure that the Minister of Health will welcome its volte face. 

Colum Eastwood talked about a wide range of issues, including tax-varying powers.  I remind him of the review that has been undertaken as a result of the economic pact, which is looking at scoping out the potential for further tax-varying powers, although I have always been very clear that, if we were to consider those, they must produce a defined economic and social benefit for Northern Ireland, and they must be affordable.  I will look at them all on a case-by-case basis. 

He also talked about enterprise zones, and I remind him that the first Northern Ireland pilot of that is in fact in the north-west.  Without getting into the higgledy-piggledy or the nitty-gritty of the rules of enterprise zones, they are not something that we can create everywhere in Northern Ireland or, indeed, for the whole of Northern Ireland, as some people in the business community have suggested.  However, there are certain circumstances, particularly where capital-intensive industries are developing, starting or growing, where we can potentially look at new enterprise zones, but I think that it is important that people come forward with a compelling case before we go to Treasury. 

To be fair to Mr Eastwood, he said at the start that he would talk extensively about Londonderry, and he was a man of his word.  Other Members from the Foyle constituency likewise have spoken during previous stages of the Bill and bemoaned the lack of investment in the north-west.  I understand that everybody in every constituency will say that they need investment in this, that and the other, and I do not deny that.  Mr Dallat intervened and talked about roads, saying that it was the only city in Europe that did not have, did you say a dual carriageway or a motorway going into it?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I am sure that the people of Armagh will be disgusted to hear that you have excluded them from the definition of a city in Europe that does not have a motorway going into it. 

Look at what has been happening in the Foyle constituency and in Derry/Londonderry over the last number of years.  Mr Dallat used the word "envy", and I think that many people representing other constituencies are rightly envious of what has been happening in the north-west.  Look at its job situation and the recent investments by companies such as Convergys, which has brought several hundred jobs into Londonderry; Fujitsu is expanding its existing footprint there; and Ilex has been developing the north-west regional science park.  As for tourism and events, there has been the success of the first UK City of Culture, so there is a lot for people in Londonderry to be proud of.  Sometimes, what I think they lack is the positivity around what is happening there being enunciated by some of their representatives.  By all means, come into this House and say to me and to other Ministers that we need investment here and there:  it is not just a Member's right; it is their duty to do that.  However, let us celebrate the great things that are going on there, the great things that this Executive have been able to help —

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Yes, I will, very briefly.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Minister agree that the envy that I was referring to was the envy of the people and the extraordinary way that they have put their differences behind them?  I include the Speaker in that, if I am allowed to.  That has not really been matched by the amount of capital investment and infrastructure that our second city — I should have said — needs.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I am not going to be tempted or be drawn into a debate along the lines that the Member is referring to.  There is much that has happened in Londonderry that the people have achieved, that I think is admirable and that could well be copied and emulated by others, but, equally, I would not just dismiss the extent of capital investment that has gone into that constituency.  It has been huge, in terms of physical infrastructure and community and social infrastructure, which perhaps comes back neatly to the point that the Member made.

I think it is sometimes easy — it is something that we all do in this House and this country — to almost instantly forget the good investments that have been made, which have reaped benefits and have allowed events like the City of Culture, the Clipper festival and other positive things that have happened in the north-west over the last number of years.  We should not forget that some of those things would not happen if it was not for investment by the Executive.  We should welcome that and not dismiss the investment that has taken place over the last number of years.

I will bring my remarks to a close by thanking Members for their contributions today and, indeed, over the last number of weeks.  As we move further into 2014-15, there will be many challenges for the Assembly and the Executive.  Tough decisions lie ahead for Ministers in seeking to deal realistically and appropriately with the apportionment of funding to front line and priority services.  We as an Assembly must not shy away from those decisions but must work together to ensure that priority public services are maximised within the available funding.

More widely, we continue to see the evidence of improvement in our local economy and there are now opportunities that we need to grasp.  The Executive are determined to support those getting back into work and ensure that the unemployment claimant rate continues its downward trend.  We need to continue supporting our private sector in delivering economic recovery and growth.  The Assembly and Executive must continue to make a difference by seeking to drive down public sector costs, increase private sector opportunity and use all the levers available to help Northern Ireland businesses and hard-working families towards a brighter economic future.

I will endeavour to ensure that the focus of the Executive remains on delivering key front line public services as efficiently as possible.  I know that the Assembly will endorse that objective.  On that note, I commend to Members the Budget (No. 2) Bill.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Before we proceed to the Question, I remind Members that this is a Budget Bill and it requires cross-community support.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved (with cross-community support):

That the Budget (No. 2) Bill [NIA 36/11-15] do now pass.