Budget Bill: Second Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 9:00 pm on 9th February 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 9:00 pm, 9th February 2016

I do not know how gainfully unemployed they are, because I am not quite sure what they are gaining — or, certainly, what the community is gaining — in consequence of their contribution, but, yes, there may be many strands to that. It is a flaw that there is this lack of focus on dealing with economic inactivity and that it is not thought important enough to resource in this Budget. That is a major failing, and it maybe tells us quite a lot.

We all understand that Budgets set down figures and that, as the year progresses, those figures become quite flexible and are adjusted as we go through various phases. However, it is instructive, towards the end of the financial year, after the exercise that was done yesterday on the spring Supplementary Estimates, to look at how some funding has been supplemented. I found it interesting, for example, that the North/South Ministerial Council required an uplift of 21·5% over the original money set aside for it. I looked for, but of course did not find, what the British-Irish Council, the poor relation, might have required. It seems to run on fresh air; but not the North/South Ministerial Council. Here is another 21·5% over what we were going to give it.

Then, I looked at the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation. If ever there was a quango that seemingly does nothing because of the dysfunctional logjam in OFMDFM — where Sinn Féin blocks any development of the opportunity that is the Maze site — this is it. Yet, this year it required a 21·5% uplift in its allocation. Why? What is it doing? More of the economically inactive or the gainfully unemployed, perhaps. What is the Maze /Long Kesh Development Corporation actually doing to warrant more money than it was ever intended to have in that year?

I notice that InterTradeIreland needed a 23·7% uplift. Yet, the resources for skills were reduced, effectively. Of course, in the rush to devolve corporation tax, we have had tunnel vision, as if reducing corporation tax was the answer to all our economic woes. However, very little parallel attention has been given to the very important matter of skills — not just skills for the economically inactive, but skills, generally, for our workforce. This, to me, is a Budget with no vision in that regard.

Then, of course, it is a Budget built upon higher borrowing than ever before in the history of these institutions, to the point where we now have indebtedness of £2·1 billion for this small part of the United Kingdom — a debt burden, not just for this generation, but future generations, growing, and presently at £2·1 billion.

That speaks to me of profligacy and mismanagement in the financial affairs of Northern Ireland.