Any budget has to protect front line services in the North West

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A Londonderry MLA says “blue light” services such as the ambulance, fire and rescue services need to be protected in any forthcoming budget outworking as they are currently at “breaking point.”

SDLP Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey made the comments during a debate on the budget on Monday.

He called for the Budget (No. 2) to go further in order to protect front line emergency services which he described as being under severe pressure.

“It is important to acknowledge the serious contribution of the blue light services across Northern Ireland, the Fire and Rescue Service and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the most important work that they do for us all - saving lives.

“I will include Foyle Search and Rescue, even though it is not officially a blue light service, it too is at breaking point. I see the crews and speak to some of the people, and I promised that I would raise its situation,” said Mr Ramsey.

Referring to the wrangle over job creation and welfare reform, he said it was an issue, which deeply affects his own constituency.

Mr Ramsey said: “Welfare is not a choice for my constituents and this Assembly should recognise that fact. There is a huge difference between the affect Welfare Reform will have in my constituency with its unemployment rate of eight per cent, than in a constituency with two per cent unemployment.

“On Monday there was a protest outside the Foyle Jobs and Benefits office due to job losses.

“We are losing a wealth of experience of those who help people into work and perhaps even forcing them into welfare system.

“What message does this send if we have the highest unemployment rate on these islands yet we can’t afford to staff a jobs and benefits office?

“It makes no sense.”

Mr Ramsey said that whilst the city has experienced dividends, not least as a result of the Londonderry UK City of Culture, such initiatives haven’t raised all boats.

“A lot of good things have happened in the city. The City of Culture year brought a tremendous feeling of self-worth and a greater sense of pride.

“Everybody was expecting the true legacy of the City of Culture to be a higher level of employment opportunities.

“However, unfortunately, when the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) team came to give the figures to the Employment and Learning Committee in November of that year, we learned that unemployment rose by two per cent in that period.”