Whilst traditionally budget debates tend to be little more than representatives listing projects they want funded in their constituencies, this year’s debate in the Assembly took place in a context of reduced budgets and nationalist intransigence over welfare reform.
Logic would dictate that contributions would therefore recognise the pressure on public spending and look at ways in which we can do things differently in order to live within our means.
Not a bit of it. Nationalist after nationalist rose to their feet and rhymed off various areas in which more money should be spent, without even as much as an indication of how they would pay for them or where they would take money away from.
Sinn Fein in particular repeated their calls for the ‘full range of fiscal powers’ being devolved to the Assembly, but again refused to acknowledge the £10billion level of subvention Northern Ireland currently receives from our Government in London. They offered no solutions as to how they would make up the shortfall!
What we should be doing is acknowledging that we need to reform government, be imaginative and innovative in how we approach policy and look for more cost-effective ways to deliver services.
Northern Ireland has a vibrant community and voluntary sector which in many cases is best placed to deliver certain services that government cannot. It can often also do it in a more efficient way and with better outcomes.
In many areas of life the public don’t care as much about who delivers services as they do about the standard and cost of such services.
In an age of higher expectations and declining budgets we need to have a genuine debate about what the role of government should be in Northern Ireland and whether there are better ways in which we can deliver vital services to the Northern Ireland public.
Alastair Ross MLA
East Antrim DUP