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Budget 2016-17

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP 4:15 pm, 19th January 2016

I will restrict my comments to the contents of the Budget 2016-17 document. It is a very interesting document. On the one hand, it is very light, particularly light on detail of how Minister Storey and his Executive colleagues intend to spend the £11 billion at their disposal in the next financial year. It is very, very light. On the other hand, it is heavier in terms of economic context and, indeed, the context for publishing this Budget at this stage.

The Fresh Start Agreement committed the Executive to having a Budget agreed before the end of this month, and that required the Budget to be expedited in a manner that is different from how it was done in previous years. Did it really? What do we mean by "different"? We mean with no consultation and little debate. The document represents the agreed Executive position on the 2016-17 Budget. Does it really? Surely it just represents the agreed position between the DUP and Sinn Féin. Actually, perhaps that is a more honest way of going forward with this devolved Government. The Executive are not a four-party Executive; they are a two-party Executive. The DUP and Sinn Féin have the votes, and they got them at the polls, so fair enough.

Let us look at the economic and social context. The growth forecast for Northern Ireland is 1·9%, although they are honest enough to say that the latest data suggests that the recovery is losing momentum. What they do not say is whether it is 1·9% or 1·8% or 1·7%. Fifty miles away, the people of the Republic of Ireland are enjoying 6% growth. How come the Government in Dublin can do 6% growth, yet the Executive cannot even do 2%? I look forward to the Minister's response to that.

Living standards are mentioned on page 7. This is great: I like gross value added (GVA) as a measure of living standards and prosperity. Ours increased — fair enough — by 2·5% between 2013 and 2014. However, the UK figure was 4·6%, the English figure was 4·6% and the Scottish figure was 4·6%. You would be better off in Scotland. GVA per head increased by 1·9%, but in the UK it increased by 3·6%, in England by 3·7% and in Scotland by 4·2%. Our people would be better off elsewhere. Northern Ireland's GVA per head — £18,682 — was 75·9% of the UK average. That is the prosperity gap. It states here:

"Northern Ireland's GVA per head has remained consistently at around 75 to 80 per cent of the UK average".

Here is the clincher: it peaked at 83·7% in 2007. Why is 2007 an important year in my mind?