‘Concern’ over discussions of 10pc Stormont budget cuts

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
Parliament Buildings at Stormont

A leading economist says he is “surprised” at reports that Stormont Departments could face cuts of 10 per cent in spending next year.

John Simpson was speaking after it was revealed on Thursday that all Stormont departments have been told to plan for cuts of up to 10 per cent in their day-to-day budgets.

The recent Fresh Start deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP, which sought to resolve long-running impasses such as the lack of agreement on changing the Province’s welfare system, also included major investment in security and community-related activities.

“I always felt the budget for 2016/17 was going to be difficult,” Mr Simpson told the News letter.

“I had hoped the Fresh Start deal would have taken some of the pressure off different parts of the budget but it is not working out as I had hoped.”

He added: “I am surprised to discover the pressure is still there.”

He also had not heard mention of any protection being granted for the health budget.

He added: “Across the water, health has been ring fenced for special protection and we are facing the same pressures as them.

“Have we squeezed our budget too much to give protection to health and bring our horrendous waiting lists downs?”

He notes that economic recovery in Britain and the Republic of Ireland are both progressing faster than here.

Mr Simpson was speaking on Friday after the BBC reported that Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL) officials warned MLAs that the proposed cuts would be “extremely serious” for arts organisations.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, welcomed the proposed cuts, and plans to restructure the Province’s government by abolishing whole departments.

“Reductions in spending are needed to restore some sanity to the public finances and politicians now have to live within taxpayers’ means,” he said.

“Some tough decisions are needed and after years of over-spending it wouldn’t be right to ask hard-pressed families to pay even higher taxes.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “No decision has been made yet. The level of protection has to be decided by the Executive.”

A DCAL spokesman added: “The Executive has agreed to a one-year budget exercise for 2016/17 and as part of the planning for this, all Departments have been asked to prepare plans for the impact of cuts at both five per cent and 10 per cent.

“At this stage the precise allocation of resources to Departments for 2016/17 is not agreed so the extent of the impact on culture, arts and leisure functions is not yet known. It is worth reiterating, however, that continued cuts to local services are a result of Westminster’s ongoing agenda of austerity and Tory policies imposed on the north.”

The Department of Finance said the Executive has not yet considered the Budget position for 2016-17 but has agreed a budget process for a single stage, one-year budget for nine Departments.

Departments have been asked to provide details of the “potential” impact of a five per cent and 10 per cent reduction to inform the Executive’s decisions. Once agreed by the Executive a Budget for 2016-17 will be announced in January, a spokewoman said.