Belfast Telegraph

£32m boost for Stormont departments

Stormont departments have received an unexpected £32 million boost, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has confirmed.

The minister redistributed the unspent money, suggesting he was surprised to have so much at his disposal. Schemes to improve roads, tackle unemployment and combat fuel poverty were the big winners in the reallocation.

The announcement came in the latest so-called Monitoring Round, where unspent money is surrendered by departments, before ministers make fresh bids for a share of what is gathered.

"When the 2011-12 budget was initially set for this financial year - back in March 2011 - there was an expectation that it would be a very tight settlement with little expectation of material reduced requirements being declared during the course of the year," the minister told Assembly members.

"However the evidence to date suggests otherwise."

Mr Wilson said it was unclear if ministers were initially too pessimistic in their predictions that departments would struggle on their reduced budgets following cuts from London. But he said it was also possible that the Assembly had underestimated the ability of departments to deliver cuts and savings.

"Whilst this is encouraging, I have now asked my officials to undertake an analysis of the current financial position of departments and compare that with the original budget allocations," he said.

"This analysis is timely given that the Executive has now launched the draft Programme for Government (PfG) and it will provide the Executive with an opportunity to review departmental allocations for 2013-14 and 2014-15 in light of its PfG priorities."

Mr Wilson expressed concern that the Department of Education had overseen the spending of only half of the £20.5 million made available for the schools' End of Year Flexibility scheme.

But he also confirmed that education is to benefit from a separate funding boost next year to deal with wider reform of the sector. The department has been promised £30 million for 2012-13 as part of a special three package of additional support.

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