Ulster Unionist Finance Spokesperson Leslie Cree has highlighted a number of issues which remain unresolved following the completion of the final stage of the Assembly’s budgetary process.
Mr Cree said:
“Today marked the final stage of the long running process of passing the Budget Bill and I sincerely hope that we have learned some important lessons along the way.
“One of the most important one relates to the consultation around the budget and the consideration of the several thousands of responses that were received. Quite frankly there is little evidence that the responses were taken on board in the short time that was available. Furthermore in many instances Departments failed to produce spending plans for scrutiny by their respective statutory committees. In my opinion this is not good enough.
“The budget agreed by the two larger parties required by increased borrowing powers. We know from recent media coverage that increased borrowing was not favoured by the Executive but it would appear that it was the only way forward. Servicing the existing debt will be costing the Executive some £63 Million in 2015-2016 and will increase significantly with the additional borrowing. We need clarity on the full effect of this borrowing going forward.
“I welcome the fact that welfare reform has been resolved but deplore the loss of over £100 million in penalties incurred due to the non-implementation of reform.
“The main reason for additional borrowing was to fund the Civil Service voluntary exit scheme which we are told will save £88 Million in the first full year. The Stormont House deal anticipated around 20,000 jobs being lost from the public sector over the next four years.
“Once again clarity and certainty are required as to how this scheme is expected to roll-out, what grades are likely to be affected and what will happen if volunteers are not forthcoming. It is clearly of vital importance that this scheme delivers and we should all be concerned that it does and that there are no unplanned scenarios that will cause it to fail.
“I was also interested at the Minister’s reference to a Comprehensive Programme of Public Sector Reform which the Executive would ‘shortly adopt.’
“Clearly there are many unresolved issues which we will no doubt return to when we come to scrutinise the Budget for 2015-16 in June.”