Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have called on the Executive to increase investment in social housing, describing its current strategy as “short sighted” and saying a massive cash injection into the sector was “undoubtedly one of the best things that we can do” during the recession.
During a debate over the Executive’s £8 billion 2009/10 budget, ministers also complained of a £200 million backlog in schools maintenance – which education committee chairman Mervyn Storey said needed to be “urgently addressed” – and a need for further funding for capital projects in the health sector, where many facilities are understood to be in “dire need of repair”.
The debate was held this week to introduce the Budget (No. 2) Bill, which sets out spending plans for departments until the 31 March 2010 and will proceed with accelerated passage through the Assembly.
Social development committee chairman David Simpson used the session to demand further budgetary flexibility for social housing. He told the Assembly: “Most committee members accept that the department’s budget position is very difficult. Nonetheless, multiple benefits are associated with investment in construction and related industries.”
He said the Executive needed to work on more innovative ideas to push the programme of social housing, including “working more closely with the housing associations that sit with millions of pounds in their accounts and do not use it”.