Northern Ireland

NI leaders meet PM in London for talks on budget cuts

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson
Image caption Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson held talks with the prime minister

The NI Executive needs more detail from the government before considering what budget cuts must be made, First Minister Peter Robinson has said.

He was speaking after meeting Prime Minister David Cameron in London along with Welsh and Scottish leaders.

Martin McGuinness said he told the PM vital services must be protected.

The deputy first minister said the government had promised to look at lowering corporation tax and examine the setting up of an enterprise zone.

Mr Robinson said they had had some "very useful discussions" about the economic situation.

"Clearly we recognise that pain is going to be distributed to the regions," he said.

"We're asking for as much flexibility as possible in dealing with that.

"Within the overall bloc that we have available, we are looking for the ability to be able to switch from capital to resource, the ability to have our end year flexibilty automatically available to us and the availability of the proceeds of assets sales made available to us.

"We'll keep pushing the government on all of those areas to ensure that we can get the best possible deal for our region."

Mr McGuinness said they were both "determined" to try and protect frontline services and ensure that the public sector was not "sacrificed" at the expense of the private sector.

"What we have to do is encourage the private sector but ensure that we continue to provide jobs for our people and to move forward and ensure that vital services, particularly for people in socially and economically disadvantaged situations, can have their futures protected."

Mr Robinson said they were still waiting on the Treasury to provide details of the breakdown in the cuts between capital and resource expenditure.

"We are unable to take our decisions as to whether we defer our cuts until the following financial year until we get that information, so we need to improve the consultation that there is between the Treasury and the devolved regions."

It was the first time that Mr Cameron had held a joint meeting with ministers from the three devolved administrations.

The meeting came a day after the prime minister warned of enormous implications if cuts in public spending do not start immediately.

Last month, £128m was cut from the Northern Ireland budget.

The Executive has yet to decide whether it will enforce the cuts immediately or whether they will be deferred.

Ministers discussed the impact of the recession and the planned expenditure cuts affecting each administration.

They also identified shared interests in encouraging sustainable economic growth and achieving the best value provision of public services.

Maintaining and improving competitiveness were also agreed to be priorities.

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