Budget must now deliver for women
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Women's Issues, West Belfast MLA Jennifer McCann has highlighted the need to use public procurement to benefit local communities and ensure progress in tackling discrimination faced by women.
Speaking during the Assembly debate on the Budget Ms McCann said:
"People have expectations of local political representatives to deliver the changes to make their quality of life better. Our economy in the North is characterised by unacceptable and unsustainable levels of poverty which expose the extent of discrimination and disadvantage in our society.
"In the past we have had no control over our own resources. That left us with an economy with patterns that have year after year produced alarming evidence of intensifying inequality and disadvantage."
Highlighting the potential of Public Procurement Policy Ms McCann added:
"By looking at how public procurement expenditure can integrate economic and social requirements along with ring fencing projects, which directly impact on discrimination and poverty, we can begin to challenge patterns of disadvantage.
"There is a huge budget for procurement and we need to agree measures such as local labour clauses which ensure that procurement meets equality conditions. For example companies which receive contracts meet base conditions which include good wages, employment of apprentices, and can contribute to local economic welfare and growth."
She also highlighted the inadequate Budget, saying:
"The British Government Block Grant is inadequate and does not allow the Executive to fully challenge the years of under-investment by successive British Governments. Notwithstanding the context of this financial shortfall; the absence of a developed all-Ireland economy; and control over our own fiscal powers, we will continue to carry the burden of trying to match limited resources with increasing needs.
"The £18 billion to be spent on investment over the next ten years must be welcomed particularly the explicit commitments to promote social inclusion and equality in the procurement of infrastructure programmes. It is important that equality and social requirements are built into every project so that the Executive can deliver quality change on the ground."
She also highlighted a number of concerns, particularly around PFI/PPP and the social economy and community and voluntary sector. She said:
"Public service provision under PFI needs examined and its shortfalls challenged. PFI and PPP contracts are long-term and invlove borrowing at a higher rate of interest than normal. Yet Government can borrow at a lower interest rate than the private sector so PFI/PPP contracts can cost the tax payer more in the longer term.
"Projects like Workplace 2010 will create problems in future years, and a greater proportion of the total Budget available to Ministers in the future will be taken up by the repayments for PFI/PPP deals which have been struck today. PFI/PPP contracts should not be seen as the preferred option and greater effort looking into alternative funding models to PFI/PPP projects should be made.
"We also need to recognise the important contribution of local economic activity that promotes social objectives and sustainable community development. This is an industry which has already created sustainable jobs: the development of the Social Economy should be actively promoted by the Assembly and Executive.
"I am disappointed that no specific commitment from the Executive to provide financial support for the Community and Voluntary Sector. The sector is starved of funding and while an on-going lobbying process must ensure specific Departments allocate the resources to core fund frontline services delivered through the community and voluntary sectors I believe monies should have been ring-fenced.
"Many community services are due to finish in March 08 and June 08. Many are losing Peace II funding with no alternative measures in place to sustain their projects, even though they have delivered opportunities for community training and development, education, promotion of good relations, and initiatives for children and young people.
"I believe the Executive needs to resource and retain the skills and expertise built up within this sector, that have helped to promote and sustain citizenship and peace. The Budget alongside the PFG and Investment Strategy should be a vehicle to empower communities through economic initiatives and Departments should commit to building social capital through funded participative community-level initiatives leading to sustainable economic projects, which are beneficial to the community."
Finally, the West Belfast MLA raising concerns about prioritising tackling discrimination facing women, said:
"I am disappointed that there is no mention of women as a specific group who face inequality and discrimination in the Budget. I expected the Budget to reflect the commitment which the Executive made in the Programme for Government (PfG) to tackling 'remaining gender inequalities' in society.
"This commitment was specifically written into the PfG at Sinn Féin's insistence and I intend to ensure that all departments honour it. The Executive rightly committed themselves in the PfG to implement the cross departmental Gender Equality Strategy and to work towards the total elimination of the gender pay gap.
"The Executive is also committed to ensuring that there are effective programmes and strategies aimed at eradicating all forms of violence against women and to ensuring a significant increase in women's representation in political and public life which will be helped by ensuring access to affordable quality childcare.
"While all these gains in the Programme for Government are welcome it is important that financial support and resources are made available to carry out these commitments. We intend to use the agreed mechanisms for delivering equality, including the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) process." ENDS