Minister for Finance and Personnel, Simon Hamilton, was on hand to answer Members’ questions during today’s Question Time. Bronwyn McGahan asked the Minister why the average household income in Northern Ireland is £2000 lower than in Britain and what he intends to do about the inequality. Mr Hamilton explained that labour productivity and issues of supply and demand are contributing factors in the discrepancy whilst also offering that the income figures for Britain are heavily influenced by London and south-east regions figures which are understandably higher. The gap will not be easy to address but that is where the Executive’s economic strategy comes into play. The best way to bridge the gap is by bringing new business to Northern Ireland and by encouraging investment in sectors where the average wage is higher. Programme for Government targets should help realise these ambitions.
Paul Givan then asked Mr Hamilton for an update on the progress on equal pay for NIO and PSNI staff. In March last year the decision was taken that NIO and PSNI staff were not entitled to access the terms of the equal pay settlement for Northern Ireland Civil Service staff. After careful consideration, the Minister has “come to the clear conclusion that there is no legal way to extend the terms of the equal pay settlement to those members of staff”. Mr Hamilton maintains his sympathy for the argument of the staff and is “continuing to explore ways in which the moral argument that they have been putting consistently could in some way be recognised”. He has also met with the Minister of Justice recently to commence work on identifying possible solutions. The Minister was quick to be realistic in saying that “I do not want to unduly raise expectations of staff, but I hope that they can see the commitment that I made to look at and reopen the issue”.
During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on bank lending, capital project delivery, economic growth and the budget for education.