MLA urges Executive to 'remortgage' Stormont

THE Executive should use a form of "equity release" to borrow money from Chancellor Alistair Darling by using Government Buildings as security for the loan, the Ulster Unionists have said.

UUP finance spokesman David McNarry said that the Executive should value superfluous assets – mostly property – at today’s prices and borrow that sum from the Treasury in the form of an interest-free loan.

That way, he argued, if the currently depressed property market rises there could be substantially extra money brought in for the public purse.

The veteran Strangford MLA said that the equity release money could then be used to accelerate Government-funded infrastructure and building programmes, boosting employment in the struggling construction industry.

Describing the current recession as a “once in a lifetime” economic event, Mr McNarry said: “This is a more drastic situation than one that can be met by in-year monitoring and shifting some money about. It needs a significant amount of new money brought into the equation

“If the Executive were to identify a hit-list of assets, have them valued at current prices, and then seek an advance from the UK Government set against the value of these assets at a zero rate of interest, this would free up money which could be used to accelerate infrastructure and building programmes.

“If, in the event, the actual hit list of assets were later sold at a higher price in a more favourable market, then the Executive would pocket more money at that stage.

“The whole point is that this approach would free up cash in advance now.”

Mr McNarry said that a “new sense of urgency” was needed and called for the Executive to “go into semi-permanent session” to deal with the economic problems.

“The speed of the Executive’s response has been slow enough to date after the 22-week block on Executive meetings brought about by long-drawn-out behind the scenes secret negotiations between Sinn Fein and the DUP,” he said.

Mr McNarry said that the entire Programme for Government needed to be re-thought, with an emphasis across all departments on boosting employment.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance and Personnel declined to comment on Mr McNarry’s proposal.