1 November 2007 Edition
Assembly budget : Maintaining services in face of British imposed restrictions
Increase in vital infrastructural spending
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
A 25% increase in vital infrastructural spending was just one of the small steps in the first Spending Budget of the new power sharing executive which was unveiled last week.
The budget proposals, which must be seen against a background of spending restrictions and controls imposed by the British exchequer, still display the clear influence of Sinn Féin thinking and a strong equality agenda.
A commitment to maintaining front line services, while generating greater efficiency in how the Six-County public sector spends its money are just two of the examples of how, after 30-plus years of direct rule the Assembly and in particular the Sinn Féin team are leaving their fingerprints on the inner workings of government.
Deputy First Martin McGuiness highlighted the increasing infrastructural investment driven by the Assembly. He said that, “over the next ten years, we plan to invest £18 billion towards ensuring we have the infrastructure we need to deliver for all our people”.
Mitchel McLaughlin, Sinn Féin Assembly member for South Antrim and one of the party’s representatives on the key Public Accounts and Enterprise and Investment Committees said that last week’s budget was important as the parties were able to claw back some key spending funds and bring more money into the Six Counties despite the Comprehensive Spending Review underway.
In particular some £295 million of new funding was available and would be invested in maintaining vital services.
Lack of scope in spending in some areas has been supplemented by creative thinking and McLaughlin highlighted this through broad strategic approaches such as bringing together the work of the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment and Education & Learning to focus on worker skills and education and redefine over time the character of the workforce producing workers who would be mobile across the economy with the skills to enhance productivity and competitiveness.
In other areas the departmental scrutiny committees will be able to “drill down” in the spending plans and ensure efficient use of the public money is being prioritised, this too could lead to extra funding being made available for key projects.
McLaughlin said while each party had individual priorities Sinn Féin was still able to maintain a broad strategic approach. He highlighted the work in the Department of Regional Development where Conor Murphy was able to reverse a policy of privatisation.
Welcoming the budget, Murphy said that the department, “would assist Translink through a £137 million rail investment that will result in the procurement of 20 new trains. A further £45 million will be spent on new buses over the next three years also. On top of this £572 million will be invested in roads over the next three years with reduced journey times and improved access to urban centres a priority.
On the key area of Water and Sewerage, the Department has secured £646 million over the next three years to improve water and waste water infrastructure.
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew also welcomed the draft budget and in particular the scope for capital investments in rural communities made possible by a £182.2 million allocation.