Question Time: Finance and Personnel Tuesday 30 June 2015

During today’s Question Time, Gordon Dunne asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel, Arlene Foster, for her assessment of the impact of the weekly £2m fine for a failure to implement welfare reform on Executive budgets. The Minister declared that the continued non-implementation of welfare reform is jeopardising financial arrangements made in the Stormont House agreement and if the situation continues there will be “a significant detrimental impact on the ability of Departments to deliver public services” adding that “now is the time either for the parties around the Chamber to live up to the Stormont House Agreement or for Westminster to step in and deal with the welfare issue. Doing nothing is simply not an option.” The cost of failing to implement welfare reform is estimated at £114m this year, £196m in 2016-17 and £283m in 2017-18. As the welfare situation changes in the rest of Great Britain, the gap between us and the rest of the United Kingdom could grow even further.

Megan Fearon also asked the Minister for her views on the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) memorandum warning western Governments against ‘needless austerity’. Mrs Foster feels that it is the rate of repayment of public-sector debt that is in question and, in that regard, the United Kingdom has room to manoeuvre; arguing that rushing to repay the debt too quickly may be counter-productive. The Minister feels that individual regions need to be considered on their own circumstances declaring “I believe that, when you are dealing with debt and the deficit, you need to have concern and regard for all the regions of the United Kingdom. I have commented previously that you do not just look at London and the south-east; you have to have regard to all the other regions of the United Kingdom” adding that “different regions of the United Kingdom have different needs, and that is where we really need to push ahead with the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury”.

Mrs Foster also answered questions on expenditure control limits, the Barnett Formula, the voluntary exit scheme and tax credits.

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