Rates a blunt instrument
Rates are a blunt instrument for raising taxes, according to Mid-Ulster Assembly member Francie Molloy, chair of the Assembly's Finance & Personnel Committee.
``Using regional rates to raise finance for the Executive disguises the reality that rates are a blunt instrument for raising taxes. An above inflation increase in our regional rates will hit the poorest households and struggling small retailers and our rural communities.
Speaking to a Sinn Féin amendment to the revised budget on Monday, 18 December, Alex Maskey said:
``A regional rate increase of 8% is well above inflation. It is a case of too much pain for too little gain.
``It is a bad increase for the small trader and it is a bad increase for the economies of our small towns and rural communities. Regional rates are payable across the board yet do not go on providing equal access to services.
``Using the regional rates in this way is in effect raising taxes. What we should be looking at is the whole issue of tax gathering powers for the Executive.
``But we have to live in the real world. There are competing demands from all the departments. There is an urgent need to increase the available monies to invest in public services. The amount generated by an above inflation rate increase in the regional rates is nowhere near what is truly required.
``Our amendment calls for the increase in regional rate to be kept at the rate of inflation and for this to be offset against the Executive Programme funds. This will minimise the impact on departmental plans.
``We need to look at a Block Grant allocation based on a Barnett formula that takes no account of need. We need to challenge British expenditure on its war machine and the lack of the development of any peace dividend. We should also look to the Irish government with a view to increasing its expenditure in an all-Ireland context, on the implementation bodies and on cross border initiatives and services.''
Community and voluntary sectors lose out
Sinn Féin Fermanagh & South Tyrone Assembly member Michelle Gildernew, Deputy Chairperson of the Social Development Committee has said that the small increase in the Social Development Budget has largely been eaten up by substantial increases in central administration, the CSA and social security whereas community and voluntary sectors lose out.
Gildernew said: ``When we should be working to eradicate community differentials, and working towards ending discrimination and tackling disadvantage we need to spend much more on the community and voluntary sectors - not starving them of resources.''
``The regeneration of our towns and villages is also a victim of this budget, with yearly allocation being slashed by 4.4%. Given the millions pumped into the Laganside project in East Belfast, expenditure in this area should be seen as a priority in order to create a level playing field.
``The area that has suffered most in this budget is however housing. While welcoming the £3.5 million allocated to disabled adaptations and the alleviation of suffering it will bring, it is not enough.
``Overall, the Housing Executive Budget only increased 1.5% when inflation is taken into consideration. However, thousands of pounds is taken out of HE coffers every year in receipts from the sale of property - while the HE is left paying the interest for years to come on money returned to the British Exchequer.
``The argument needs to be made on the collective basis of consensus to the Britsih Exchequer that the Block Grant it gives us simply does not meet our need. On top of that it is in effect taking money out of the money available to improve housing.''