Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Justice row led to delay in plans for £400m budget cut

Plans to cope with next year's Northern Ireland budget cuts were delayed by three months because of the power-sharing dispute, according to the Finance Minister.

Sammy Wilson yesterday accused ministers of creating further hold-ups by not taking the need for savings seriously.

Executive departments need to save around £400m in the next financial year because of decisions like the continued deferral of water charges.

Mr Wilson told Stormont's finance committee: “I am a bit disappointed that departments have not produced the spending plans.

“Some of the suggestions that they made immediately had me saying, ‘come on, this is going to be a serious exercise, not a cynical exercise'. There's not really an excuse for the information not being provided to the committees.”

Mr Wilson has established a £26m fund to allow departments to invest in order to produce long-term savings. There is also a review of all sections of the budget to identify further efficiencies as there is expected to be no extra cash from London next year.

The DUP minister added: “If this assembly is to work properly and scrutiny committees are to scrutinise properly then they must have the information to scrutinise and to look at.”

Large savings will be produced because of delays in the construction of the Royal Exchange retail and residential development in Belfast city centre.

But Mr Wilson admitted the impasse over policing and parades had affected his timetable for deciding spending.

“These (proposals) did not get to the executive for three months and for that reason there was the delay in the whole process. Through the agreement at Hillsborough we are trying to address it and a committee has been set up to investigate how we get papers through the executive more quickly so that the kind of work that needs to be done by the committees is done and we don't finish up with accelerated passage (of legislation),” he added.

Sport Northern Ireland has warned that proposed £2.5m cuts in Government funding could have a devastating impact on local sport.

The Government-funded group claims that 20 of the country's most talented athletes will not receive funding to prepare for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2012 Olympics.

Background

The Assembly is facing a £367m shortfall in the next financial year, meaning the 11 Stormont Departments will have to shoulder the financial burden.

Each department must decide how to make the multi-million pound savings before an agreed final set of spending plans for 2010-11 are made in the middle of March.

The department facing the biggest cash loss is health, at £113.5 million, followed by Regional Development — the department responsible for water rates — at £80.5m, and Education with £73.7m.

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