Response to the Northern Ireland Executive draft Budget 2015-2016
The public finances are clearly in crisis and this consultation has been very rushed with patchy information available. Many of our consultation events organised with departments and organisations in our sector only had a few days’ notice.
The budget crisis of 2015 is not a one-off but is indicative of things to come in the next Parliament. Public expenditure will drop year-on-year in real terms during the life of the next CSR.
The crisis was not of Northern Ireland’s making it was caused by property speculators, fuelled by irresponsible bankers and lax government oversight at a UK and international level. Northern Ireland does however find the consequences inescapable and we have to deal with it.
The resultant squeeze on public expenditure cannot be dealt with by a crude reductionist approach to spending on public services. The inevitable result of that is protectionism, poorer services, a demoralised workforce and a disgruntled public that thinks nothing works. Northern Ireland needs to respond to the crisis by recognising the scale of the problem – the platform on which we are standing is actually burning.
To manage the change process will require a united Northern Ireland Executive committed to collective decision-making for 5 years. For the first time our comprehensive spending review should be actually zero based and prevented from just rebuilding itself as it was – but with less.
Each Department (if there is one) or priority area of government should have a Change fund to finance new service delivery and the focus for all service delivery should be prevention first before cure is needed.
Northern Ireland needs to reinvent itself. While there will be less public funds than might have been expected there are still very significant resources that if utilised to their optimum value can produce an excellent return for the community. One that develops the economy, creates job opportunities, protects health, looks after those in need, educates people, shares in the Arts, Heritage and natural environment. A place to invest, live, enjoy and grow old and be cared for.