On the 4th September I spoke in my role as Shadow Northern Ireland Minister to close a debate on the Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Bill.
You can read the transcript and watch my full contribution below.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Dame Rosie, in this Committee. I will keep my remarks brief to allow us to hear from the Northern Ireland parties on Third Reading.
Once again we come together to debate legislation that should be dealt with in Stormont. We still have civil servants running Departments with restricted powers, trying to plug a gap of £800 million and unable to consult with Cabinet Ministers. Stormont is the right and proper place for scrutiny to take place. In this place, we cannot simply provide the level of consideration and scrutiny that this budget deserves.
To quote today’s report from Pivotal,
“managing this situation has been extremely challenging, if not impossible, thanks to two interlocked problems: no political leadership for decision-making and impossibly tight budgets.”
On the first problem, sadly I have seen no sign over the recess that indicates the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive is any nearer. I would welcome hearing from the Secretary of State what discussions he has had over the summer with parties in Northern Ireland, as the situation is now beyond breaking point.
On the second problem—the budget—we do not oppose the Bill, as services are in desperate need of funding, but the fact is that this budget is not enough to address the problems facing public services in Northern Ireland. A real-terms funding fall of 3.3% means that existing services simply cannot continue to function as normal. The people of Northern Ireland have been left facing cuts to support and increases in charges for everyday necessities during the cost of living crisis. While we appreciate the need to explore avenues to raise revenue, the measures put forward so far may cause more societal damage than the monetary gain is worth. As I have mentioned, we are missing a vital level of scrutiny and accountability for these measures.
We, the Labour party, agree with the principle that local decisions should be made by local politicians, but the situation is now extreme. While there continues to be no functioning Executive, I ask the Secretary of State to consider what he can do within his power to help the people of Northern Ireland. This is a critical state of affairs, and the full impact may not yet be realised, as any overspends will inevitably lead to further cuts the next year. The only viable way forward for Northern Ireland is the restoration of the Executive, and I implore the Secretary of State, the Minister and the main parties in Northern Ireland to ensure that happens sooner rather than later.
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