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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 09:06 GMT
Final hurdle for executive programme
By Martina Purdy
BBC NI political correspondent

On Monday, the assembly is being asked the approve the programme for government.

Peter Robinson, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness
Peter Robinson, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness with copies of the budget

This is arguably one of the most important documents to be published by this administration.

It sets out what this executive aims to achieve, how and when.

It's doubtful however that it will be widely read. Indeed, would many citizens even know what was in it?

Even so, it is going to be the subject of some debate in the assembly - as will Tuesday's budget.

Indeed, the draft programme for government, after some consultation, and much discussion - is now ready for assembly approval.

The amended final document, however, does not differ significantly from the draft.

There have been some adjustments, in part because critics, who included parties to the executive, complained of contradictions between the budget and the draft programme for government.

For example, the Ulster Unionists suggested that the finance simply was not there to deliver the educated workforce required to drive an innovative high tech economy.

The draft programme for government had an aim of delivering 300 PhD students.

To ensure delivery more funding was forthcoming in the final budget, as was more funding for social and affordable housing.

The overall aim is to "build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland with respect for the rule of law."

Alliance leader David Ford has criticised the programme
Alliance leader David Ford has criticised the programme

To achieve this, the executive promises to pursue an innovation and productive economy, to promote social inclusion, as well as personal health and well-being, and to protect and enhance the natural environment.

Equality, we are told, is an important issue, and the goal is to eliminate all forms of inequality.

Within these aims, the executive has laid out specific targets.

Some have been toughened up from the draft programme for government, others have been watered down, according to the Alliance Party.

It has compiled a list of the changes. It notes a change from the draft programme on the promise to secure inward investment commitments creating 6,500 jobs.

The new programme makes clear that 85% of these posts will be above our private sector median wage.

That's a change upward to include an extra 500 posts.

There's also a whole list new of strategic road improvement schemes.

'Previous administration'

Another central Alliance Party criticism of the draft programme for government was its commitment - or lack of commitment - to a shared future.

The party has noted that the new programme for government, on page two, now contains the phrase "a shared and better future."

But the party is unhappy that it continues to use "a better future" on the cover.

The SDLP has also been critical, complaining for example that some ideas have been recycled, not just from the previous administration but from direct rule.

It is also concerned that although the finance minister handed millions more to children and young people's services in his final budget proposal, there is still no separate Children and Young People's Fund.

What is clear is that the Alliance Party, as a self-styled opposition, will vote against the programme for government and the budget this week.

The question is what will the UUP and SDLP do?

Will they try to have their cake and eat it by having their ministers vote for these issues, while other party MLAs abstain or vote against?

UUP leader Sir Reg Empey seemed to answer the question on the BBC's Inside Politics when he said that his party would now be open to backing the budget.

Sir Reg seemed to answer the question on the BBC's Inside Politics
Sir Reg seemed to answer the question on the BBC's Inside Politics

However, he could not guarantee his party would stay in the executive until the next assembly election in three years.

Water charges remain a controversial issue and many MLAs will no doubt have something to say about the new report on the Water Review, due out on Monday.

Whatever happens, measuring up to the aim of delivering a dynamic economy won't be easy given the state of the US economy and fears of a recession there.

But at least we can measure this programme. The lengthy and detailed 1999 programme for government in the last administration was practically impossible to measure. Just ask the Alliance Party.

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