There has been mixed reaction in Northern Ireland to the Autumn Statement by the Chancellor Phillip Hammond.
Mr Hammond announced that there would be £250m extra for infrastructure over the next five years, with increases in personal allowance, university funding and the national living wage, alongside freezing fuel duty and investing in technology.
The Minister for Finance Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said the proposals were a welcome boost, but also warned that there would still be economic upheaval ahead for Northern Ireland.
“I am glad that the Chancellor has listened to calls from the Devolved Administration Finance Ministers, who together represent 10 million people, to provide a capital stimulus,” he said.
“The Chancellor’s announcement however does not reverse the 4.1% real terms reduction in our Resource budget which pays for the everyday running of public services.
“Earlier I joined my Scottish and Welsh counterparts in a conference call and we will continue to push the Conservative government to rethink their failed austerity agenda.
“The Office for Budget Responsibility’s prediction of a 2.4% drop in economic growth as a direct result of the EU referendum points up the huge challenges ahead."
The UUP spokesman for Finance, Philip Smith, said that the Statement showed deficiencies in the Executive’s approach.
“The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement had a particular focus on increasing productivity and reducing the levels of public debt across the UK.
“Those are two points which the local Executive seem blissfully ignorant of. Northern Ireland’s productivity is amongst the lowest in the developed world and we have by far the largest level of indebtedness of any region in the UK, with almost three times the level of debt per head of population compared to Scotland.
“Whilst I welcome the £250m extra investment of infrastructure funding, it will further increase the need for the Northern Ireland Executive to develop and deliver a strategic investment programme in order to ensure debacles such the recent threat to the York Street Interchange are avoided.”
Construction Employers Federation Managing Director John Armstrong echoed the Finance Minister’s sentiments and said that the money needed to be a stepping stone to more concrete budgetary plans.
“All eyes will now turn to the publication of the Executive’s 2017-21 Budget, especially for capital expenditure, on 19 December,” he said.
“This must deal with the key challenges that industry has highlighted in recent months:
- Reinforcing the need for greater accountability around the timely delivery of the Executive’s infrastructure pipeline
- The need for a multi-year budget approach for road maintenance
- A clear path towards the delivery of the York Street Interchange and Belfast Transport Hub projects including the full examination of alternative forms of finance to achieve this.
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association Chief Executive Glyn Roberts also highlighted that the Transport Hub was a priority.
“NIIRTA welcomes the additional £250 million for investment in our infrastructure and would urge the Executive to make the York Street Interchange a top priority for funding," he said.
“Increasing the personal tax allowance is a positive step, allowing working people to keep more of their salaries and hopefully spend more in our retail sector.
“Continuing the freeze on Fuel Duty gives some savings to our members who have vans and for hard-pressed consumers.”