Ulster Unionist Finance Spokesperson, Steve Aiken MLA, has warned that instead of being used to deliver new and improved public services, much of the £320 million of extra funding announced for the Northern Ireland block grant, will instead simply be used to plug deepening holes across local Department budgets.
Dr Steve Aiken said:
“Westminster has once again just done what Stormont has been unable to do in three years – present a budget. Even when we had a supposedly fully functioning Executive, the last Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir failed to take even the most basic of financial decisions.
“Today saw one of the most important fiscal statements in recent times – coming only 5 months prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. There was much to be encouraged about; a shrinking deficit, reduced borrowing and forecasted sustained real wage growth.
“Yet public services across Northern Ireland remain in crisis, and there was little in this Budget to suggest that things will improve here anytime soon.
“Whilst there were major announcements of in-year funding for everything from pot-holes to winter hospital pressures, I suspect much of the additional funding that we will now receive will simply be used to fill in some of the many budgetary black holes that exist across several major Northern Ireland Departments, not least the Departments of Health and Education.
“The £300m announced for school projects in Northern Ireland to supposedly promote shared & cross community education, was also a good example of the same money being constantly reannounced.
"The announcement of funding for a Belfast City Deal is obviously welcome but it is still not clear how negotiations on this will work in the on-going absence of a local Executive.
“We also welcome the £2 million announced to help Belfast City Centre recover from the devastating blow of the fire at the Primark store in Bank Buildings. The news that the duty on fuel, spirits, beer and wine will remain frozen for yet another year will be well received across the UK, and especially here in Northern Ireland due to the importance of major companies such as Bushmills Distillery.
“It was however disappointing that there was yet another fudge on the issue of abolishing short-haul air passenger duty, despite the fact that we are repeatedly told by the DUP it was a high-priority topic in their deal with the Conservative Party.”