Ulster Unionist Finance Spokesperson, Steve Aiken MLA, hit out at what he called the tokenistic box ticking engagement with the political parties by the Northern Ireland Office on next year’s budget.
Dr Steve Aiken said:
“At a time when the Northern Ireland Assembly is not able to undertake its usual scrutiny role, it is more important than ever for the Executive Departments here and the Northern Ireland Office to be acting in a transparent and open manner.
“It’s a disgrace therefore that the NIO handled the engagement on next year’s budget so appallingly. The Secretary of State said in her budget statement that she has discussed the budget situation with the political parties - she has not. Tokenistic efforts do not constitute actual engagement.
“Over the last ten days there have been three NIO budget meetings. The first ended in farce as the political parties were asked to consider options without being told what those options were, the second ended with only minimal information provided, and the third – just two hours before her statement was published - lasted minutes with again only bare information provided.
“Every piece of budgetary information requested by the Parties in recent days and weeks has been withheld. There has been no disclosure of any meaningful figures – we were told there were savings being made without being told where the savings were coming from, and despite repeated requests for a list of the main budgetary pressures from which the NIO and Department of Finance here were considering this was never provided.
“There is nothing in this next Budget to reassure me that Northern Ireland’s finances are in any way in a sustainable state. We are relying on one-off allocations and desperate accounting by swapping capital money to resource just to fill gaping holes across the Departments.
“This Budget appears to be the latest step towards Direct Rule, and if this is the case the Secretary of State should show some leadership and get on with it. However, she must make it clear that the secretive manner in which her Department has acted in recent weeks is not a sign of things to come.”