Northern Ireland Budget for 2023–24 – Pivotal media statement

Without any increase for inflation, today’s budget means huge cuts to valued public services this year – and also risks increasing future challenges. The Secretary of State’s announcement is another short–term budget which does little to address the urgent local need for long–term strategic planning, investment and reform.

The budget announced today will have a devastating impact on Northern Ireland’s public services, especially for those who are most vulnerable.

While the announcement that the £297 million loan can be repaid in a different way is welcome, this budget still means cuts across all departments – particularly education, communities and justice where funding actually falls in cash terms. While health gets the same cash amount as last year, continuing high inflation means they face significant real–terms cuts, while demand is likely to rise year–on–year, further increasing pressure on services.

However, the problems this budget creates will not stop at the end of this financial year. Cutting schemes that provide early intervention and prevention, or involve spend–now–to–save–later investments, will means that the issues facing Northern Ireland’s society and economy will be tougher to tackle in future.

Failures to make good decisions going back years have also contributed to the current problems. There has been no Executive for four of the past six years. That represents chronic instability. The lack of strategic planning and consistent decision–making that resulted is unsurprising.

Reforms to public service delivery could have yielded savings and enabled more services to be delivered to the public within existing budgets. Although politically unpopular, more could have been done to consider how more revenue for public services could have been raised locally.

This is all happening without ministers in post to take ownership of decisions. While the Secretary of State has set the funding allocation for each department, it has been left to unelected civil servants to decide which funding programmes will be cut. This is undemocratic and requires civil servants to take decisions which are not their role.

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