Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Thursday, 9 April 2009 10:31 UK

NI 'may need emergency budget'

bank notes
Public finances are under pressure

The Executive may need to hold an emergency budget, a leading local economist has warned.

Richard Ramsey of the Ulster Bank said projections in the Programme for Government were "no longer realistic".

He said the situation is likely to worsen following the delivery of the UK budget in two weeks.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance said expenditure plans will be considered by the executive following the outcome of the UK budget.

Mr Ramsey's comments followed an emergency budget in the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday.

He said that budget made it more transparent how the Republic was going to begin to plug its rising deficit.

However he said that from a Northern Ireland perspective, there was "less transparency regarding the current condition of the Executive's public finances."

He warned that latest multi-year budget projections contained in the Programme for Government which were presented at the start of last year were "no longer realistic".

 Northern Ireland will be expected to take its fair share of the public expenditure cuts.
Richard Ramsey
Ulster Bank

He said: "How unrealistic they are remains unclear.

"While the scale of deterioration in Northern Ireland's public finances is nowhere near the severity of that being experienced in the Republic, from a Northern Ireland perspective it is still significant."

He believes the most concerning "unknown" is to what extent the executive's capital investment plans, which were drawn up at the height of the property boom and which were partially reliant on property sales, have been scaled back.

He said: "The capital investment plans for the current financial year have already been reduced but what is the expected profile beyond this time horizon? "

Challenging

There have been several setbacks in the executive's plans to raise money through property sales.

In March, Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie confirmed the collapse in prices will cost her department £200m over the next two years. Earnings she had hoped to make from property and land sales will not now materialise.

A plan to sell and lease back government offices which was projected to generate up to £1.5bn collapsed in in February.

Another plan to sell government land at Crossnacreevy on the outskirts of Belfast also fell through.

Mr Ramsey added that the public expenditure outlook is going to be even more challenging in two weeks when Alistair Darling delivers the UK budget.

"This will confirm the rapid deterioration in the UK public finances. Northern Ireland will be expected to take its fair share of the public expenditure cuts."

The Department of Finance spokesman said: "The financial position facing the Executive is reviewed on an ongoing basis by the Finance Minister.

"In addition, the Executive regularly considers changes to its expenditure plans as part of the quarterly in-year monitoring process with amendments made where appropriate.

"The Finance Minister then reports the outcome of these deliberations to the Assembly with evidence sessions held with the Committee for Finance and Personnel providing full transparency as regards the public expenditure position.

"It also needs to be recognised that as a sovereign Government with responsibility for taxation, the Republic of Ireland is currently in a more precarious financial position than Northern Ireland."



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SEE ALSO
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07 Apr 09 |  Northern Ireland
Ireland unveils emergency budget
07 Apr 09 |  Business
Failed offices scheme cost 13m
06 Apr 09 |  N Ireland Politics
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