Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Roads fillip as Wilson shares out £128m fund

Transport, health and education are the big winners in an Executive spending review, the Finance Minister has announced.

In total, Sammy Wilson reallocated £128m, some £50m of it carried over from last year.

Roads and schools needing maintenance, first-time homeowners, hospital waiting lists, new buses and youth unemployment services are all to benefit.

“This carry-through shows we were able to balance our budget despite some predictions,” said Mr Wilson.

However, he stressed that the economic climate was still tough — and may get tougher still.

He said: “To put education in perspective, the £9m we have put in will make a significant difference, it will ensure that the schools budget is cut by 3% rather than the 5%, which would have happened otherwise.”

Education Minister John |O’Dowd said £4m will be used to address the backlog of schools maintenance.

The Co-Ownership Housing scheme, where a first-time homeowner is helped to get a mortgage, is a particular favourite of Mr Wilson’s. It receives £10m. “The banks have bought into it and are prepared to lend,” Mr Wilson said.

He said the £13.8m allocation to the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) includes funding for a new policy targeted at youth unemployment. Some £8m will go into Steps to Work, designed to help adults back into employment, and £5.8m will be targeted at youth employment.

DEL Minister Stephen Farry welcomed the money which he said would “see an enhanced level of intervention compared to our neighbouring jurisdictions”.

The repair and resurfacing of local roads, some of them still suffering from the ravages of the 2010-11 winter, will receive an immediate boost of £27.8m. Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy welcomed it but warned roads could still deteriorate.

He estimated “a further £50m is needed annually to maintain the structural integrity of the network at its current level”.

Mr Kennedy also got £5.8m to buy new buses and £1.9m for the Londonderry to Coleraine railway line.

After DRD, the biggest tranche of £30m went into an ‘invest and save’ scheme intended to reduce future costs as budgets tighten.

Health Minister Edwin Poots welcomed the allocation of £24.2m to his department, of which £14.2m will be used to support the health estate and £10m to reduce waiting lists.

Essential improvements will be carried out at the neonatal units in the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital and Antrim Hospital, structural repairs to the South Tyrone Hospital and a range of other projects directed to tackling life threatening risks such as infection control and fire safety.

Background

Three times a year the Executive reviews money which some departments have been unable to spend within the time allowed and reallocates it. The alternative would be to hand it back to the Treasury. Roads often benefit from cash windfalls because they have projects ready to proceed without delay and be completed within the specified time frame.

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