Ulster Unionist Finance Spokesperson, Dr Steve Aiken MLA, has welcomed the introduction of the latest Northern Ireland Budget Bill but has warned that the state of local public finances remains so precarious that a round of in-year funding cuts are still likely in the autumn.
Steve Aiken OBE said:
“Once again we have the embarrassing, but absolutely essential, spectacle of the UK Government having to legislate for our Budget in order to keep essential public services operating.
“The intransigence of Sinn Fein has yet again brought us to the point that Westminster is having to step in, and even they are not so naive to dismiss this as one further step towards direct rule.
“The fact that there has been no Budget passed, or any scrutiny of finance bills for Northern Ireland for 3 years is a scandal. The fact that Historical Institutional Abuse payments have not been included, and that we have had the embarrassment of having to forgo hosting the Commonwealth Youth Games, should be a salutary reminder to us all of the sorry state we are in.
“Whilst this Budget Bill will keep public services ticking along for a little while longer, it is my understanding that both the Health and Education budgets are under immense and almost unmanageable strain and with every passing month the situation is getting worse.
“In recent weeks and months the DUP have been at pains to portray this year’s Budget as a good deal for Northern Ireland, when in reality it falls far short of what key public services need just to stand still. In fact, as a direct result of the Budget, I have been told that the Department of Health in particular may be forced to introduce yet another round of major in-year spending cuts later in the autumn. The lesson never seems to be learned - last-minute cuts in spending are by far the most damaging and least effective way to manage our public finances.
“Our colleague Alan Chambers today called for the Assembly to be temporarily recalled to get decisions, any decisions, made. It is time for action, not further prevarication.”