Attwood: £5m welfare reform penalty 'worth paying'

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The SDLP's Alex Attwood said a £5m a month penalty for failing to comply with welfare reform plans would be "a price worth paying", on 24 February 2014.

Mr Attwood pointed to research by Sheffield Hallam University that said the changes to welfare could take £750m out of the Northern Ireland economy, equating to "£840 for every working-age adult in Belfast" and "many multiples of the £5m penalty the British government wishes to impose".

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton had raised the issue as he opened the debate, saying that failure to reform welfare would "impact on departmental financial planning".

The minister emphasised the importance of financial planning to minimise underspending.

Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay, speaking in his capacity as chairman of the Finance Committee, described the legislative stages of the budget process as "cumbersome" and "in need of streamlining".

He said the committee welcomed engagement with the Finance Department and would like more input from the Assembly and committees at earlier stages to "maximise scrutiny, add value and influence policy."

The UUP's Leslie Cree was similarly critical of the financial process, as currently constituted, describing it as "ineffective" and "not showing transparency".

Mr Cree said that departments must pay close attention to how surplus funds were used.

He said "the underspend (is) hard to explain to taxpayers as we move through one of the tightest budgetary periods of recent years."

You can see the second part of the debate here.

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