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Budget 2016-17

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:45 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 5:45 pm, 19th January 2016

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. The 2016-17 Budget document states:

"The establishment of the new Department for the Economy presents an excellent opportunity to deliver key economic development policies in a collaborative, cohesive and targeted manner."

The PwC economic outlook report of 2015 states that our local economy has been characterised traditionally as a job creation economy rather an economy driven by productivity. That suggests that we have been able to create jobs despite productivity levels being low. Educational underachievement is ever-present. The OECD international comparison study of last year shows that, in the North, academic ability among 16- and 17-year-olds is among the lowest in the United Kingdom and that wealth generation options are relatively low due to the size of our private sector. Our private sector accounts for only one third of our total economic output. As a result, as we are all aware, a heavy burden is placed on the public sector. Given that the financial outlook in the United Kingdom is gradually getting worse, the North's low-wage and low-skill economy is not best equipped to perform well and create prosperity. That is a major challenge for us.

The projected 5·7% maximum cuts, as outlined by Minister Foster last December, will not impact on the Department for the Economy (DFE) in the same way as other Departments. That is not to say that it will not suffer from financial losses; there is a 3% cut to non-ring-fenced resource DEL. On inspection, it appears that that large cut may be reflective of the fact that the employment services provided by the old Department for Employment and Learning will not be within the remit of DFE. Employment services provided to those who struggle to obtain work will be transferred, as we know, to the Department for Communities. That may have been the reason for the cuts.

The budget for higher education has been cut by just under £12 million. That is significant and substantial. This excerpt is lifted directly from the 2016-17 Budget document:

"Over the last number of years, a clear funding gap has emerged and widened between our own universities and those in other parts of these islands. With tuition fees frozen and grant funding reducing, we have been overseeing a reduction in the unit funding provided per student. The challenge for Northern Ireland universities is to compete in a very competitive global higher education marketplace. If we cannot maintain competitive funding levels, the quality of provision in Northern Ireland will diminish in relation to other parts of the UK and we will end up with a second rate higher education system."

That is a key element of the Budget and the main focus for cuts within the budgetary remit of DFE. Much has been made today of the opportunities that exist through additional corporation tax powers. If we do not have the skills to match the FDIs that are coming here, or those that potentially might come here, we have a significant and substantial problem. If we are not investing in those —