The only way to deal with the crisis in public finances which is threatening Executive Departments is to accept that the Budget and Programme For Government are not fit for purpose and must be replaced as a matter of urgency.
Recent statements made by the Health Minister about the state of our health service, the DRD Minister about road maintenance budgets and the Employment and Learning Minister about funding for the expansion of the Magee campus in Derry have sent a very clear message to the public. We are in the middle of a public finance crisis and the current Budget and Programme for Government are no longer fit for purpose.
The SDLP has long said that the provisions in this 4-year budget would result in significant shortcomings in Health, housing and the provision of public services. That is why we were the only party to vote against the budget in 2011 and why we have refused to support it at every stage in the Assembly since then.
“The current crisis in health and in public finances will not be solved by pushing money around the table in successive monitoring rounds. That approach amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Neither will it be solved by a backroom deal between Sinn Féin and the DUP. No more sticking plasters and no more stop gaps. We need a long term plan for financial stability in the Health service and other Executive departments.
We are specifically calling for the executive to institute a comprehensive annual budget process which provides a transparent breakdown of the allocation of resources and is responsive to competing demands, unlike the current 4-year budgetary cycle. We want each Executive Minister to conduct a forensic assessment of their departmental budgets to highlight areas of non-essential spending where resources can be made available to struggling frontline services like Health.
If action is not taken immediately then the public finance crisis will deepen and the pain the public are enduring will become more acute. The SDLP cannot and will not stand by and allow that to happen while the two largest parties conduct shady deals behind closed doors.