Due to the budgetary pressures in 2015-16, my Department is able to provide only a skeleton routine maintenance service at present, and even that is being carried out at some financial risk to my Department. As a consequence, weed control is one of the areas affected. This will impact not only in North Down but right across Northern Ireland
My Department will not be able to control weeds chemically, either by the use of external contractors or its internal workforce. Where resources and other higher priority work permit, my Department’s internal workforce will manually scuffle localised areas to control weed growth. The Department will, however, continue to treat noxious weeds.
As I said in reply to an earlier question, this is not the service that my Department wishes to provide. However, it is a direct consequence of the challenging budgetary situation. As I indicated, I will bid in the June monitoring round for the resources required to provide normal routine maintenance activities. I trust that the Member will support that bid.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but will he advise us what his message is to ratepayers? They look after their properties, pay their rates, cut their grass and control their weeds, yet, when they go out onto the public roads, they are at risk because weeds are not controlled and grass is cut only once a year. As the Minister, surely you are concerned about the real issues of road safety, especially sight lines on places like the Bangor road.
— in ratepayers and taxpayers and the service that we are expected to provide and need to provide.
I do not dispute the need for the service to be maintained at a proper level. In fact, I am fighting very hard to try to ensure that that happens. My Department faces a very challenging economic situation — £60 million in real terms — and that has to be managed. I cannot spend money that I do not have. I am stretching the finances until we see the outcome of the June monitoring round.
The Member will also know that the Executive are losing £2 million a week. Shamefully and disgracefully, that is because of Sinn Féin's refusal to move forward on welfare reform. That money, if spent in my Department, would make a very useful contribution to dealing with the issues that I have and that the Member mentioned today.
I refer the Member to my original answer, in which I made it clear that there has been an impact not just in North Down but all over Northern Ireland. I do not want to be in this situation. Again, I make the point to the Member that, if the issue of welfare reform could be resolved, the very dark cloud that hangs over the Assembly, the Executive and these political institutions could be lifted, and perhaps we could then have sensible and reasonable discussions about how we can afford the things that we need to do, particularly from my budget and the other Executive budgets that are so badly impacted as a result of Sinn Féin's current stance.