Mid Ulster District Council has issued a hard-hitting response to the Budgetary Outlook briefing paper which sets out potentially drastic cuts to public services in the next two years.
The briefing paper was released by the civil service pre-Christmas and sets out the financial pressures and possible scenarios which may have to be considered in future budget-setting by the Assembly.
In its reply, the Council highlights the failure of departments to properly scrutinise all areas of expenditure with a view to identifying cost-saving and income generation measures and urges central government departments to ‘look again at the potential distribution of available resources with a view to ensuring that the aims of the Programme for Government are realised’.
Of particular concern are the suggested cuts to the Rates Support Grant, which exists to help equalise the gap between those councils with an ability to raise substantial income through rates and those whose rates base is lower. The Council has lobbied strongly and continuously against any reduction to the grant which would have a major negative financial impact on Mid Ulster and ‘must be avoided’.
Chair of the Council, Councillor Kim Ashton, said: “At a time when we as a Council are facing our most challenging budget-setting process to date and are actively seeking to absorb costs, identify efficiency savings and income generation opportunities, while maintaining quality services, this paper is, at best, disappointing and at worst, alarming”.
Speaking about some of ‘doomsday scenarios’ which the paper outlines, including drastic cuts to street lighting provision, grass cutting, gully emptying, pothole repairs and winter salting and road clearance, Councillor Ashton continued: “How can the civil service justify protecting payroll and other lesser budgets, and in some cases, not even consider budget reductions, while at the same time suggesting that some of our most essential public services and core programmes to drive economic growth and support communities be cut drastically?
“We urge the civil service to subject existing budgets to the appropriate level of scrutiny in advance of any restoration of the Assembly so that we can see an equitable and transparent budget being delivered”.
A Department of Finance spokesperson said: "The Briefing on the Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook 2018-20 illustrates the options that may need to be considered by Ministers through the use of three possible scenarios. These are purely illustrative and there is no preferred scenario.
"They are not proposed budget settlements and no decisions have yet been taken. It will be for Ministers to decide on the way forward. This remains an information gathering process and the final budget decided by Ministers could be different from any of the three scenarios presented.’