Wrong way to go about Equality Commission budget cut

Simon Hamilton MLA
Simon Hamilton MLA

Few would disagree that the Equality Commission needs to shrink in size, that its workforce is imbalanced or that it over-reached in pursuing Ashers Bakery.

In that regard, many of us have some sympathy with the spirit behind Jim Allister’s proposed financial amendment in the Assembly this week.

Jim’s amendment ultimately failed because he went the wrong way about achieving his aim and did so at the wrong time.

Jim’s stated intention was to reduce the commission’s budget as a ‘rebuke’ for the Ashers case. The Vote on Account provides Stormont departments with what is effectively a cash float at the start of the financial year to spend on services.

However, Jim’s proposal wasn’t specific to the Equality Commission but impacted OFMDFM as a whole. If his target was the Equality Commission then reducing OFMDFM’s overall allocation was not the best way to achieve it and could jeopardise other important services delivered by OFMDFM, like support for victims.

Furthermore, Jim’s timing was wrong. The right time for an amendment aimed at reducing the Equality Commission’s budget was a fortnight ago during the budget debate.

However, Jim voted against a budget cut then. The Executive – including Sinn Fein – agreed a 7 per cent reduction to the Equality Commission budget for 2015/16 meaning they have £427,000 less next year. That’s more than Jim proposed to remove.

If Jim really wanted to ‘rebuke’ the Equality Commission then why didn’t he act two weeks ago? Why also did he vote against a greater reduction than the one he proposed?

Jim’s amendment was a stunt. He knew it would fail because nationalists would block it. While Jim talks tough, in reality the DUP - and only the DUP - delivered what he said he wanted which was to cut the Equality Commission’s budget.

Simon Hamilton

Finance Minister