Budget Bill: Second Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 9:45 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 9:45 pm, 9th February 2016

In response, despite all our efforts and despite all the agreements that we sought to have on the Budgets, the SDLP still sought to have a position where it voted against every Budget. I think that that is what the people of Northern Ireland need to remember, and that is what they need to keep a focus on when it comes to determining who were the best custodians of public finances in Northern Ireland.

Let me move on to other comments and try to make progress on some other issues that Members raised. The issue of the A6 Randalstown to Castledawson upgrade and the other flagship projects was raised. Like Mr McCrea, I am pleased to see that the Executive are committed in their 2016 Budget to taking forward the upgrade of the A6 road linking Belfast and Londonderry, including the dualling of the Randalstown to Castledawson section. The A6 Randalstown to Castledawson dualling scheme is a significant project that will help to remove a very major bottleneck and so improve safety and journey times on what is a strategic and very important route in Northern Ireland.

Ms Hanna asked about the A6 and the other flagship projects. She wanted to know how they would be funded over their lifetime. If she looks at the Executive Budget for 2016-17, a document that I know she has a copy of, she will see that it sets out the Executive's funding commitment to all seven flagship projects right up to 2021. This was done specifically to provide Departments with funding certainty for that period.

So, I do not think that we can be accused of doing little on the commitment given to the flagship projects. We have not been making false promises. Those projects have been clearly committed to, and moneys have been set and allocated alongside them. So, I do not see how you can interpret that as yet another false promise that will not be delivered.

I know that the issue of the A5 was raised, and I may come back to it. The Member will hear very soon about progress on the A5; in fact, maybe I will deal with it now. I concur with what some others said about the Member's maiden speech. It is always a daunting task to speak in the House on any occasion, no less for the first time, and I commend the Member for that. As I have already said to him, I look forward to working with him as a Member of the House. I think that we need to be clear about the figures so that there is no confusion. The Executive have committed to invest £230 million in the A5 and a further £260 million in the A6 over the next five years. I have to say that, if that is not a commitment on a substantial capital project, I do not know what is.

The Member mentioned broken promises. I think that we also need to remember that a judicial review stopped the process, which the Member will be well aware of. He should also take some heart from the investment made in the Lisanelly project in Omagh. A substantial amount of money is being invested in the education of young people in that locality, and we look forward to seeing the benefits as the project is rolled out.

My colleague the Chair of the Education Committee Mr Weir made some comments about the Department of Education. There is clearly cause to ramp up skills through investment. We have raised the issue of corporation tax, and a key component part of that is our education system. I have already put on record my support for an additional £20 million to address pressures in our schools, which, I think, will be welcome. I want to pay tribute to our education providers who do an outstanding job. I see that the Minister is in the House. He should not take that as an endorsement of him because he knows that, at this time of night, my generosity might not extend that far. I have listened to the concerns raised about the pressures that are there, and I have no doubt that the Minister, under my good guidance, will make an announcement on that in some detail shortly.