Friday 04th March 2011

Friday Treats?

Good children sometimes get a Friday treat, at least in our house that’s how it works. Today at Stormont, after weeks of criticism from parties outside the Big Two – and it has to be said the vast majority of representative organisations, employers groups, community and voluntary sector as well as trade unions – about the state of the draft budget, Sammy Wilson was giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

The key difference between the draft budget, published before Christmas, and this final offer was almost £.5billion. Sammy and his Executive colleagues reached far down the sofa and produced a few hundred million extra. So Health got more (“not enough” according to Minister Michael McGimpsey), DRD got a significant uplift, DEL, DCAL and DETI each got a little more as well while DSD lost out on £70m (“a poor budget” according to Minister Alex Attwood).

Some clever maneuvering has led to the on paper increases, such as putting the stadia improvement plans on a six year footing rather than four while legislation will be introduced to allow the Executive to take funds from the Harbour.

The debate around the budget says much about the state of politics in Stormont. The DUP and SF accuse the smaller parties of electioneering, while never failing to point out that the UUP supported the Tories who are making the cuts while the SDLP apparently didn’t produce any alternatives plans.

Aren’t they all electioneering? Isn’t that in fact what politicians do? They also have a job of producing a budget so now that the draft plan has been set aside, let’s see how this “final” budget goes down with the business and wider community.

It made for an interesting Friday on the hill. 

DEBATES

Matters of Day

None

Executive Committee

Legislation

Oral & Written Ministerial Statements           

                                      Prison Review

                                      North/South Ministerial Council: Tourism

                                      British-Irish Council: Housing

Committee & Private Members’ Business

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

Oral Questions

Education:        End-year Flexibility / Magherafelt Primary School and Nursery Unit / Teachers: Employment / University of Ulster: Magee Campus / Special Education Needs (SEN) / Schools Budget Curs

DEL:                 Belfast Metropolitan College / Holylands: St Patrick’s Day / DEL: Welfare Reform / Employment North Antrim  

DETI:               Tourism: North-West / Investment: Belfast / Energy: ETI Committee Report / Companies: EU Funding / Regional Tourism Partnerships

Environment:   Business Rates / Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Revenue / Local Government Reform / DOE: Capital Budget / Plastic Bag Levy / River Basins / Climate Change / Companies: Environmental Practice

COMMITTEES

OFMDFM had a walk in the park looking at Play and Leisure Policy. DCAL dusted off the cobwebs from the review of value and impact of museums in Northern Ireland. DEL went back to the classroom for a briefing from St Mary’s Teacher Training College. DETI ducked for cover from The Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Transportable Pressure Equipment (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 meanwhile Regional Development took the scenic route with a Briefing from the Alternative A5 Alliance.

AND FINALLY….

Spare a thought for South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt. The SDLP representative had his kind offer of spending St Patrick’s Day in the Holylands spurned by Employment Minister Danny Kennedy.

Whilst the Minister might have ordinarily relished the prospect of navigating his way through pint bottles of Magners and blue WKD wielded by NI’s brightest and best, he was polite enough to refuse on the grounds that it is son’s 21st Birthday and he doesn’t live in the Holylands.

Mr McDevitt might just have to drown the shamrock on his own…