Question Time: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister 08 December 2014

Budget cuts and financial restrictions were top of the agenda once more as deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, answered questions on behalf of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. Lord Morrow asked what impact the cuts will have on the delivery of departmental services. Funds for the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry and the Victims and Survivors Service have been ring-fenced but the remaining areas of the department will see a reduction of £8.4m – a cut of 12.8%. The Minister said that “to deliver these reductions the Department will scrutinise its entire budget including staffing, administration costs, funding for arms-length bodies and funding for programmes”. This will see reduced levels of staffing and cuts in discretionary spending. “While the Department will seek to ensure that the impact on front line services is minimised it will not be possible to fully protect budget areas from the impact of the proposed budget reductions”.

The deputy First Minister was then asked about the importance of devolving corporation tax powers in rebalancing the economy. Mr McGuinness described securing corporation tax responsibilities as a “key priority” saying that rates setting powers will “enable us to rebuild and rebalance the economy towards greater private sector and output growth” and “should increase direct foreign investment and domestic investment, expand our economy and bring greater numbers of higher value jobs”. The deputy First Minister pointed to the high level of foreign investment already secured by the Department as evidence that it is not unrealistic to expect even more when we are in a position to offer greater tax incentives to companies seeking to invest in Northern Ireland.

During topical questions Mr McGuinness was asked how confident he was that the current all-party talks would be concluded as per the timescale set by Prime Minister, David Cameron. The deputy First Minister is hopeful that a breakthrough will be achieved as “there is universal agreement that if these talks are not concluded before Christmas then there is little or no prospect whatsoever, in the aftermath of Christmas, of us finding a way forward so it is absolutely vital that we conclude these discussions”. The aim is to see a satisfactory conclusion by the end of the week.

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