Responding, the Upper Bann DUP MLA said:
‘‘This budget does absolutely nothing to reverse and address the chronic underfunding of education across Northern Ireland. The baseline budget in recent years has been entirely incapable of meeting demand and the Secretary of State’s plan to impose a 2.4% cut in cash terms will simply add to these woes to the tune of some £70m.
We have already learned that no new school building projects will commence in this financial year and roll out of digital devices for pupils from deprived backgrounds has also been suspended. Although we hold out hope that a solution can be found to ensure the restoration of these programmes, there is undoubtedly a risk that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that, if imposed, the Government’s budget will lead to an irreparable loss of services for the most vulnerable.
The Northern Ireland Office needs to realise that if education and other public services in Northern Ireland are to be put on a stable footing for future generation, there needs to be step-change in how our Province is funded. The fact that the Treasury’s contribution to fund public services in Northern Ireland is going down rather than rising.
We need to see a comprehensive review of the Barnett Formula to ensure that what Northern Ireland receives is based on an assessment of need rather that purely population size. To put this in perspective, the Special Educational Needs budget has doubled locally in the last 8 years and without a corresponding uplift in the baseline there is a hole in the overall budget as a result. This proves that the current funding model is preventing public servants from proactively respond to emerging demand in our classrooms. It also curtails the department’s ability to deliver a fair pay award to our dedicated and talented staff.
It is completely disingenuous for Chris Heaton-Harris to imply that this is about Northern Ireland departments learning to live within their means when in truth the financial foundations of our public services are crumbling before our eyes. The cake simply isn’t big enough and that simply isn’t sustainable. Rather than flirt with the idea of imposing new taxes on households across Northern Ireland, which will only tinker at the edges, the Government needs to realise that the systematic underinvestment in Northern Ireland must end and end quickly.’’