CBI NI response to Department of Finance budget briefing
CBI Northern Ireland has responded to DFP’s publication entitled “Briefing on Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook”.
CBI NI Director Angela McGowan commented:
“The CBI welcomes today’s progress on advancing the debate about Northern Ireland’s public finances. Public expenditure pressures for local Departments such as health, economy, education and infrastructure have been rapidly rising while our block grant has been simultaneously shrinking in real terms – quite simply, tough choices must be made in terms of raising revenues and/or cutting expenditure.
“In normal times, politicians should be making these choices around revenue raising measures as well as deciding where the necessary public expenditure cuts can be made. Normally any fiscal decisions should be aligned to Northern Ireland’s priorities in our Programme for Government. The business community accepts that this latest development is a highly unusual one. However, it is needed to ensure that local public services will not drift backwards because of our politician’s inability to deliver much-needed power-sharing government.
“The CBI recognises that in the absence of an Executive we need officials from the Department of Finance to inform us on all the available options around achieving a better-balanced budget and a more sustainable fiscal path for the short to medium term. The CBI also notes that if the independent Fiscal Council, which had been promised in the Stormont House Agreement, had actually been delivered, that Council would have been hugely helpful in this extraordinary situation.
“But regardless of where our fiscal decisions are made, the next Budget for Northern Ireland must prioritise the drivers of economic growth. People often forget that economic prosperity is the key to solving many of our social issues. Only economic growth can deliver job opportunities, lift people out of poverty, allow for social mobility and reduce health inequalities – all of which will ease pressure on public expenditure in the longer term.
“It should be noted that there is a very real fear among the business community that if Northern Ireland continues to respond to our healthcare crisis by diverting funds from all other areas into health, then there will be no public money left to support the wider economy. For example, we currently require urgent investment in infrastructure, skills, higher education and wider economic development programmes.
“Hopefully, the local Executive will return to serve the people of Northern Ireland soon. Only when Ministers and a sustainable budget are in place can we move forward on economic issues such as Corporation Tax and other incentives designed to attract investment into this region.
“The CBI looks forward to reviewing the document in detail, however we recognise that when expenditure outweighs income, unpleasant choices are ahead”.