Belfast Telegraph

£432m boost for key public services

Final budget plans which give £432 million to key public services in Northern Ireland have prompted angry exchanges among political leaders.

The Ulster Unionists and SDLP opposed reallocations which will see health and education handed extra money because they believe the review does not go far enough.

But Finance Minister Sammy Wilson accused them of cynical politicking ahead of May's Assembly elections as splits in the all-party ministerial Executive widened.

Mr Wilson said: "This is a budget that supports the community, grows the economy and reflects the needs and aspirations of the people of Northern Ireland."

The Department of Health is one of the big winners with £120 million over four years, supplemented by a further £69 million following an internal reclassification of some money. Four-year budgets were also announced for the Department of Education (£154 million), Department for Regional Development (£107 million) and Department of Employment and Learning (£51 million).

The changes were made possible by an increase in the amount of property rates brought in, use of an "invest to save" fund and an over-commitment to spend by the government over the four-year budget. This allows for savings which may be made in the future which have not been accounted for.

Mr Wilson also announced plans to impose a levy on large out-of-town shopping developments to subsidise extra rates relief for small businesses.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has been vocal in his criticism of the draft budget. Mr McGimpsey, fellow UUP Employment and Learning Minister Danny Kennedy and SDLP Social Development Minister Alex Attwood voted against Thursday's Executive decision to adopt the spending plans during a stormy meeting.

Mr Attwood said: "The issue is a budget that is still not fit for purpose, for those in increasing need in the days and weeks and months ahead."

The budget will be voted on by the Assembly later this month.

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