Editorial: Chris Heaton-Harris's Stormont budget contains too much politics and not enough finance
While all government budgets are a subtle mix of politics and finance, the secretary of state's recent budget for the north contains too much politics and not enough finance.
Chris Heaton-Harris has reduced Stormont's budget by over three per cent, even though the rate of inflation suggests that we might reasonably have expected an increase of up to 10 per cent.
As a result, Stormont officials have calculated that they will need to find £800 million in cuts and revenue-raising measures to break even in the current financial year.
Although successive Conservative governments have reduced public expenditure, these latest cuts appear to be driven by local, rather than British politics. In aiming to implement the Windsor Framework, the British government is obviously keen to end the DUP's boycott of Stormont.
While Mr Heaton-Harris has denied setting a 'punishment budget', it is hard to avoid the conclusion that his strategy reflects an element of artificially creating financial pressures for political ends.
As a result, the Department of Health is facing a shortfall of £470 million at a time of ever-increasing hospital waiting lists. The Department of Infrastructure's budget pressures may result in streetlights being turned off and winter roads not being gritted.
Other government departments also face serious challenges in maintaining their previous levels of public service.
Meanwhile, the secretary of state is reportedly engaged in discussions with the DUP about a significant financial package to entice the party back into Stormont. This reinforces the belief that the current budget has a strong political undercurrent.
It appears designed to punish the DUP, but the real damage will be felt among the wider public. Budgetary cuts may be a political tactic, but they are causing confusion among those who deliver public services and uncertainty among those who need them.
Perhaps the most worrying announcement is the Education Authority's disclosure that it would have to make 6,600 staff redundant to deliver the savings expected in the education budget.
This is particularly punishing for Northern Ireland education, which is facing a 2.7 per cent cut, while the schools budget for England is due to rise by 6.5 per cent.
It is time for the secretary of state to stop playing politics with our children's education and our society's future. It is not a responsible way to make a political point.