Alarming to hear talk of more Stormont borrowing

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Although as a democrat I sincerely congratulate the new Executive Ministers on their respective appointments, it is alarming to find the first announcement from the new devolved administration is that it is going to try to borrow still more money from the Treasury.

This is particularly worrying as they have no idea how much they want to borrow, nor what it is for.

The Northern Ireland rate payer already pays over £40 million a year solely to service the interest on borrowing already taken on by the last administrations.

To give an idea of the scale of that expense, even removing the rates cap and introducing Prescription Charges would not cover it.

There was at least an argument, however, that the money was borrowed while rates were low for clearly defined infrastructure projects and the exit scheme.

The suspicion now, however, is that an attempt will be made to borrow money while the credit card is already maxed out just to avoid unpopular decisions on vital reforms, not least to the Health Service.

The Expert Panel will report shortly, and one of the things it will point out is that if we continue not to reform the Health Service, we will soon be spending the vast majority of our devolved budget on Health alone, and indeed that only a generation from now our entire devolved budget would be taken up by Health – with nothing at all left over for schools, roads, work programmes or even social care.

Far from seeking to raise the credit limit still further, the Executive should be using the next three election-less years to instigate the vital public service reforms needed, most obviously in Health.

We have had enough reviews, commissions and panels.

Now is the time to take on board what the experts are saying and act on the reforms they propose.

Otherwise we will be living not just on borrowed money, but on borrowed time.

Paula Bradshaw MLA, Alliance, Belfast South