Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

Northern Ireland Water making a splash in property field with sell-offs

NI Water's disposals have exceeded Government sales targets
NI Water's disposals have exceeded Government sales targets

Northern Ireland Water has been making a bit of a property splash. The body has stacked up more than £100,000 by selling off a number of local depots.

The surplus assets disposed of in 2012-13 include offices and depots in Armagh, Ballymoney, Cookstown, Downpatrick and Limavady, as well as a few other small parcels of land.

On The Hill can also reveal the sales exceeded the target set by Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy in an exercise often referred to as "selling off the family silver".

But Northern Ireland Water does not get to keep the extra income itself, officials have insisted.

NI Water spokesman John Collins said: "Unless additional budget cover is provided through the in-year monitoring rounds, the proceeds from asset sales do not provide NI Water with any additional spending power.

"The forecast value of disposals will be taken into account in setting the funding requirement for the company's capital programme each year.

"If, subsequently, the disposals do not materialise as planned, this could potentially reduce NI Water's capital spending power."

In layman's terms, if asset sales don't make as much money as predicted, NI Water could lose money from its budget.

It's a jargon-laden example of the complicated accounting procedures Stormont departments go through from month to month.

When it comes to achieving efficiency savings, civil servants have been reading from the same book in the recent past – but they are not all on the same page.

All of them have spent months implementing savings delivery plans which, one official said, are "no longer strictly speaking just efficiencies but also about ensuring that high priority services are protected".

Some departments have developed four-year plans, while others do them one year at a time.

"Northern Ireland receives its budget allocation through the Barnett Formula and has over recent years been largely shielded from budget reductions," according to a document from the Office for Budget Responsibility.

"This is because the UK Government has protected health and education budgets – areas where Northern Ireland has what is known as full Barnett comparability." So now you know.

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