SDLP Leader and South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has called on those parties isolated in their support of a flawed draft budget “to remove their heads from the sand and to start improving the financial proposals.”
Ms Ritchie said the DUP/Sinn Féin/Alliance consensus on the cuts was at odds with business leaders, community groups, economists and Stormont committees.
She added, “The SDLP remain strongly of the view that the draft budget needs to be improved substantially before it can be regarded as fit for purpose. It is not just the SDLP who have been critical of the draft budget. Representatives from the community sector, economic consultants and representatives of business and industry share our view. Indeed, the finance committee with its built-in Sinn Féin/DUP majority have added its voice to the growing criticism of these proposals.
“It is clear this budget is a political accommodation between two political parties rather than a financial blueprint for our future. It does nothing for the rebalancing of our economy and imposes a mountain of misery on the least well-off in our community. It does nothing to protect frontline services, create jobs and there is very little new money.
“The SDLP cannot support a budget that envisages a hike in student fees. We also want to see a greater priority attaching to investment in new build social housing and in schools maintenance which can have a much needed employment multiplier in the construction sector. We should also try and focus on developing the Green New Deal which this draft budget fails to do.
“The SDLP has continually identified the need for additional investment to boost the economy and sustain growth. In addition, we have pointed out where the money should come from. In our financial paper ‘Partnership and Economic Recovery’ we set out in unprecedented detail how billions of pounds can be found in the next four years.
“Some parties may attack the SDLP for trying to change the budget but we believe it is not only our right but our duty. There is still time to get the budget right. The SDLP want to help make this budget fit for purpose and we should make the consultation exercise meaningful instead of a charade. Four years into devolution, let us end this era of ostrich economics,” added Ms Ritchie.