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Still vital to set Budget despite ongoing pandemic, says Muir

It is still important to set a Budget despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has said.

North Down MLA Mr Muir was speaking after Finance Minister Conor Murphy delivered the 2020/21 Budget to the Assembly. Ministers will now allocate their money to their respective Departments.

“Our first priority must of course be to ensure all of the necessary funding is provided to frontline workers, safeguarding their lives while battling to save people from COVID-19,” said Mr Muir.

“The scale of the financial response which is going to be needed to deal with the ongoing crisis is still not certain but it remains important we set an interim and short-term Budget. Today’s statement from the Minister is the start of a process, with allocations now being distributed by Ministers and scrutinised by Committees.

“This Budget is being set in the midst of extraordinarily uncertain times. There is a real risk that without Government intervention, this pandemic will result in inequality rising further. Everything must be done to help protect the most vulnerable in society, including adequate resources for those laid off and businesses struggling to survive during this crisis.

“The planned reductions in non-domestic rates is welcome but much more needs to be done to assist businesses currently excluded from grant support and widen the scope of rates relief for those sectors badly hit as a result of this pandemic. Without such assistance, more jobs will be lost and recovery even more difficult.

“We are experiencing challenging times not just because of COVID-19 but the previous failure of local leadership to properly manage funds and face up to hard decisions, such as tackling the cost of division, implementing of the Bengoa report into the health service and moving beyond a segregated education system. With the current public health emergency and the economic crisis placing unprecedented pressures on all budgets, there is no more road left to kick the can down.”