Scottish Government: Cooperation

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance and Personnel – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 9th June 2015.

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Photo of Ian Milne Ian Milne Sinn Féin 2:15 pm, 9th June 2015

5. Mr Milne asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel for her assessment of the importance of working closely with the Scottish Government on ensuring the sharing of best practice and information. (AQO 8352/11-15)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Of course it is important to work with other Administrations on areas of mutual concern and on where best practice can be shared. My officials are in regular contact with their Scottish counterparts on a broad range of matters that are relevant to the work of my Department.

Photo of Ian Milne Ian Milne Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Mo bhuíochas leis an Aire as a freagra go dtí seo. I thank the Minister for her answer thus far.

Following the recent visit by the Committee for Finance and Personnel to Scotland, it was widely perceived that the Scottish Executive have a much more robust approach to dealing with the Treasury in London than the Department here has. Does the Minister believe that it is time to step up her demands for a fair deal from London?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am very pleased to hear the Member use the term "fair deal" because, of course, not so long ago, it was the DUP slogan, in that we would deliver a fair deal for Northern Ireland.

A Member:

That worked out well.

A Member:

It did not go down well for you.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am hearing that it did not go down well for some Members — exactly.

Since my appointment, I have received correspondence from my counterpart, John Swinney MSP, the Scottish Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance. I met John in my previous role and very much look forward to meeting him again so that we can discuss issues of mutual interest, including, I have to say, public-sector reform. I am also looking forward to meeting the Welsh Minister for Finance. She has also been in contact. So I look forward to a trilateral with those two Ministers, but I will probably be meeting John on an individual basis as well.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I recall a number of years ago, when I was a member of the Committee for Finance and Personnel, that a new Budget process was being arranged that would improve transparency and adopt best practice, but that was ultimately blocked by Sinn Féin Ministers, so I find it rather strange that that question was asked by a Member from that party.

Can the Minister advise the House of the actions that she has taken to ensure that we have a real Budget and, apart from that, to ensure that we have a better process such as the one that was previously approved by the Committee for Finance and Personnel and, indeed, the Assembly?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I say to the Member that he is absolutely right to call for more transparency in departmental budgets. That is what Committees need to see. It is what the public need to be aware of as well. I am now engaged in a process on how we can do that and how we can make, dare I say it, the Northern Ireland finances more accessible to the public. I very much want to be able to do that.

Regarding the Budget, I believe that it is a real Budget. I say that because it was agreed on figures that were agreed back on 23 December 2014 under the Stormont House Agreement. That is the process under which I am bringing the Budget forward. Whether it is through Sinn Féin and the SDLP stepping up to the mark on welfare or the Westminster Government taking action to deal with it, those are the options. As far as I am concerned, I am fulfilling my responsibility to bring forward a Budget when it comes to the House next week.