Question Time: Finance and Personnel Monday 16 September 2013

Minister for Finance and Personnel Simon Hamilton, faced his first Question Time since taking over from Sammy Wilson.

First up was 15 minutes of topical questions. George Robinson was keen to ask the Minister on what evidence he based his comments that Northern Ireland was showing signs of economic recovery. Mr Hamilton was eager to stress that, while we should remain cautious, there are indications that we are slowly turning the corner such as the stabilising of the unemployment rate (which at 6.9% is lower than the UK average) and the 2% rise in house prices in the 1st and 2nd quarter of the year. However there will be "bumps along the road to recovery", illustrated by the current difficulties facing Hanna & Browne.
Adrian McQuillan also enquired about the formation of the Public Sector Reform Division within DFP. The Minister confirmed that public sector reform is an area that he has added to other priorities such as procurement and rates and the creation of the division is a reflection of the change in policy.

During the scheduled list of Oral Questions the Minister was quizzed by Karen McKevitt on the possibility of further DFP funding on the Narrow Water Bridge project. The Minister argued that the £12m funding already allotted to the project is significant and substantial and that, at this stage, is "enough and no more", while also revealing that, in the coming weeks, consideration will be given to contingency projects for the funding should the Narrow Water Bridge project fall through.

Kieran McCarthy also asked Mr Hamilton what discussions he has had with the banking sector regarding funding for small businesses, expressing his disappointment with the Government's funding for lending plan which he feels has let Northern Ireland down. The Minister agreed that while such funding schemes had not been ideal for Northern Ireland, it is hoped that further review will help our small businesses, citing one of the greatest dangers to economic recovery as "the failure of very good companies that have good ideas to get access to finance".

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