“The main frontline services will be divided between education, economy and health.”
This was British Foreign Secretary Chris Haton-Harris’s depressing assessment of the 2023-24 NI budget by Derry Chamber.
Chamber Chief Executive Anna Doherty said the results of the budget became clear.
She added: “It is clear that the impact will be felt by all communities, businesses and families in Northern Ireland. Important frontline services will be distributed across education, economics, healthcare and more. This is a crisis that will affect not only businesses, but also communities, schools, households and workers.
“Our secondary education colleges, which provide a critical and skilled pipeline of talent to our local businesses, are being cut, while vital business support and start-up programs are also likely to be damaged.
“The public sector is also a very important and prominent consumer of local goods and services. Small, independent and local businesses rely heavily on this supply chain and any funding cuts will have a negative knock-on effect on these businesses.
“Now is the time for good political leadership. We need an Executive and Assembly ASAP. While locally elected ministers will not solve this crisis overnight, it is right that they make the decisions that affect our country. We urge the parties here once again to make every effort to restore power-sharing as soon as possible,” said Anna Doherty.
Furthermore, SDLP Infrastructure spokesman Mark H Durkan expressed serious concern about cuts to the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) budget allocation for 2023-24 that could impact public safety.
The department was already facing major budgetary challenges, including taking a one-time decision to use Translink’s reserves to maintain public transportation in the past financial year.
Due to the recent allocation, DfI faces a 14% reduction in its resource budget.
Mr. Durkan said: “It is very clear that the existing budgetary pressures within the department are affecting frontline services.
“Nowhere is that pressure more apparent than on our road network; from the struggle to grit trails last winter to the growing number of potholes in the region.
“In January this year, I attended a briefing with the Permanent Secretary where civil servants outlined their ‘worst case scenarios’ if the budget failed to cover their £100m deficit.
“Unfortunately, the bleak picture painted four months ago is now faced with the very real possibility of street lights being turned off, the lifeline of public transportation being terminated, gritting services being scrapped this winter and road maintenance being reduced to ’emergencies only’ to reduce costs. That is just a snippet of what this budget will mean to the public in real terms.”
Mr Durkan said the Ministry of Infrastructure had set out in “no uncertain terms” that the allocation of the budget would leave it “unable to properly maintain its assets” and provide front-line services.
He added: “I am deeply concerned that these cuts could jeopardize public safety on our roads.
“The SDLP will meet with the Permanent Secretary in the coming weeks to express our concerns and will try to find a way to mitigate the worst effects of these drastic cuts.”
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