Failure to set budget is a ‘financial time bomb’

Former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson
Former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson

Stormont’s inability to set a budget will cause “economic havoc” for Northern Ireland, former finance minister Sammy Wilson has warned.

The DUP MP claimed that, following the collapse of the power-sharing institutions last month, there is now “no chance” of a budget being in place before the start of the next financial year.

And he accused the current finance minister, Sinn Fein’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, of failing to fulfil his ministerial duties.

Mr Wilson added: “The abject failure of the Finance Minister to bring forward a budget before Christmas followed by Sinn Fein’s collapse of the Assembly has left a financial time bomb which has the capability of wreaking the economy.

“The responsibility for this financial fiasco lies firmly at the door of Martin Ó Muilleoir who neglected his duty as finance minister to present a budget to the executive something which needed to have been done before Christmas.”

The East Antrim MP, who served as finance minister from 2009-2013, said that even in the event a new Executive is established after the snap election in March, there will not be sufficient time to have a budget in place by April.

The result of Stormont’s failure to set a budget for 2017-18, according to Mr Wilson, will be an immediate 5% reduction in the money available to departments.

“The money will be allocated on the basis of last year’s budget so new priorities cannot be considered,” he added.

Mr Wilson claimed that, as a result of financial uncertainty, some voluntary groups would be forced to lay of some of their staff, and additional funding promised to the health service would not be available.

However, Sinn Féín’s John O’Dowd branded Mr Wilson’s comments as “a rambling attempt to deflect attention away from the RHI scandal”.

Mr O’Dowd said: “The political crisis, which has delayed the budget, is due to the succession of financial controversies the DUP have been embroiled in, including Red Sky, NAMA and RHI. And Sammy Wilson after all was the Finance Minister who signed off on the disastrous RHI scheme.

“In the event that a budget is not agreed by the end of March, monies will continue to flow to public services without the imposition of cuts.”

Education Minister Mr O’Dowd added: “Mr Wilson is simply incorrect in stating that ‘the money be allocated on the basis of last year’s budget so new priorities cannot be considered’.

“On the contrary resources can be reallocated between departments in line with prevailing priorities.”