Stormont told to be more honest about impact of budget cuts

Angela McGowan said the Executive had no fiscal strategy in place
Angela McGowan said the Executive had no fiscal strategy in place

A leading Northern Ireland economist has said that politicians here should be more honest about the impact budget cuts will have on public services.

Danske Bank’s chief economist Angela McGowan told BBC Radio Ulster’s Inside Business on Sunday that there was no fiscal strategy in place.

“The politicians continually shy away from decisions that need to be made,” she said. “It’s being disingenuous to tell us public services will not be impacted.”

Northern Ireland could not continue to “rely on handouts” from Westminster, she said.

“Perhaps they’d be more successful in getting around Treasury if they were more upfront and honest about having to introduce revenue streams such as prescription charges and rate revenues,” she added.

“There’s no economy in the world can grow and provide public services with air, you know, it’s Mickey Mouse economics.”

She said: “Unless we get the same kind of stimulus George Osborne so readily gave to the north of England (in the Autumn Statement), but didn’t look at Northern Ireland for – unless we start to get our act together and insist on those sort of stimulus coming our way – I think we’ll find it quite difficult to move forward.”

Last month PriceWaterhouseCoopers Northern Ireland chief economist Esmond Birnie said Stormont’s draft budget for 2015/16 “fundamentally does not balance”.

“The next three to four years will see a reduction in the block grant from London to Northern Ireland of about 10 per cent regardless of who is in government,” he told the News Letter.

“Even if the welfare reform was not an issue, the budget going forward is still exceptionally difficult.”

The DUP sent in a statement from Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, in which he said: “The irony of being lectured on honesty and a lack of a strategy by someone working in the banking sector will escape no one.

“I have never tried to hide the fact that Northern Ireland is heading into tough times.

“In my draft budget statement to the Assembly I made it clear that the shape and nature of our public sector would change as a result.”