The first inclination when taking in the Executive Budget for 2016-17 is to be positive.
The Finance Minister Arlene Foster, who was crowned DUP leader in east Belfast last night, revealed the budget yesterday afternoon in one of her last acts in the role before she becomes First Minister early next year.
Northern Ireland’s roads have long been a source of acute embarrassment. While the last decade has seen road infrastructure in the Republic improve beyond all recognition, north of the border we remain almost literally stuck in first gear. For those long-suffering motorists who make the always painstaking journey between Londonderry and Belfast, the announcement of funding for the A6 will be greeted like manna from heaven.
It’s almost beyond all credibility that this province’s two major cities have been connected by a road that is barely B-standard. It not only frustrates commuters and stretches their journey times beyond acceptability, but it also has a detrimental impact on business, industry and the economy.
The £258 million project has the potential to end almost 50 years of frustration, and there is similar good news on the A5, another gateway to the north west of the province.
Elsewhere, there is plenty to encourage in the important areas of health – which will receive an increase of around one per cent – education and business.
Of course, all this hinges on whether the Executive will be able to deliver on its promises. The SDLP, in voting against the budget, claimed the Executive was setting “undeliverable promises”.
Other departments are to be squeezed. The Department of Agriculture and Environment will effectively have its budget slashed by almost six per cent.
Farming has faced increasing difficulties in recent years and cuts always perpetuate the feeling that those outside Belfast aren’t always at the forefront of minds at Stormont.