Social Democratic and Labour Party MLA for Mid Ulster, Patsy McGlone, has said that rural communities need a strategic plan to build a sustainable path to economic recovery. The SDLP spokesperson on Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs was speaking after this week’s Assembly debate on the 2021-22 budget.
Mr McGlone said, “The one-year roll-over budget that the Finance Minister brought forward presents us with a difficult situation. It does not allow Departments or agencies to plan strategically and there is a lack of urgency in addressing that.
“All of this is a huge challenge for all parties. Waiting lists for health treatment are at record levels – people who are waiting for referrals, people who are waiting for domiciliary care packages, and people who are not able to get the treatment that they require. For all of us, it should be an honour-bound duty to see that through for our constituents, who are our neighbours, our friends and our families.
“The economy has been hit severely by the COVID pandemic in some areas. However, other areas cannot get workers. Some employees have left to go back to their homes in mainland Europe, where the economy may have improved and flourished. Others have moved from posts that were furloughed.
“The key to addressing that is training and investment in skills, so that our young people and those who need to be reskilled are properly skilled to move into the sectors of the economy that need support and that see huge deficiencies. Those deficiencies also present an opportunity for our economy to grow.
“Unless we have significant investment in sewerage and water infrastructure in our towns and villages, we will not be able to deliver the social housing, the additional factories and the schools that we need.
“Brexit continues to disrupt our trade in agri-food products. The uncertainty caused by the failure to resolve problems arising from the Brexit protocol has hampered our attempts to recover from the economic impact of the COVID pandemic.
“The agriculture and agri-foods sector employs upwards of 100,000 people in the North.
“We need to see funding earmarked to implement a Climate Change Act. Farmers and other sectors will need support to make the fair transition required.
“The current policy of the British Government in pursuing free-trade deals with Australia and the rest of the world is not about support for agriculture here, North and South. It is the pursuit of low food prices and votes in English constituencies.
“Rural communities in Mid Ulster and other constituencies need to see more evidence that the joint heads of the Government in the North have a strategic plan for a sustainable future.”