UK budget unveiling should be ‘reality check’ for MLAs

MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Tom Elliott
MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Tom Elliott

The unveiling of the UK-wide budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Wednesday stands in sharp contrast to the situation in Northern Ireland – who have failed to come to any agreement on the Province’s own spending.

The UUP and Alliance Party were among those reacting to the details of Philip Hammond’s announcement in Westminster – which he said included an additional tranche of money for Northern Ireland.

However, MLAs must draw up there own budget for how money will be apportioned in the Province, and there is no sign of when they will be able to agree this.

Alliance’s Dr Stephen Farry (MLA for North Down) said the UK budget should offer a “reality check” to MLAs.

“While Alliance is sceptical about some of the chancellor’s agenda, new spending and policy announcements are being made, which is in stark contrast to the stagnation here,” he said.

“A budget for the UK as a whole brings into further sharp relief the absence of a proper Budget for Northern Ireland for the next financial year – something that begins in just over three weeks.”

He also warned despite the pledge of extra funding, Northern Ireland is still “set for a year of just getting by”.

UUP MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott said: “It is worth reflecting this is the second financial statement by the chancellor in a matter of months, while in Northern Ireland we still have not agreed a budget for the next financial year, which is only three weeks away.

“This creates a great deal of uncertainty for ordinary people, and is an indictment of the failure of the last Executive.”

He declared himself disappointed that the National Insurance payments from self-employed people will rise by April 2019.

This was echoed by DUP MP for East Antrim (and former finance minister) Sammy Wilson, who – whilst generally welcoming the budget – voiced concerns about the impact this would have on the self-employed “who work long hours, for often relatively little reward, many of whom may not be able to absorb the additional costs imposed by this”.

Meanwhile, the Green Party said “without an Executive in place, MLAs cannot scrutinise the budget allocation and delve into the detail behind the headlines”.