Belfast Telegraph

Forty new buses on cards after departments fail to spend £40m

By Noel McAdam

A fleet of more than 40 new buses and a boost for roads funding have emerged from the latest Stormont spending shake-up.

Executive ministers had more than £40m to disperse after a number of departments — but particularly Social Development — failed to spend their total budgets. Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy was the chief beneficiary with £18m which should help maintain almost 300 construction jobs — with £1m to improve street lighting in some areas.

Some £6.7m is earmarked for bus fleet replacement which will buy six single deck buses, 13 Goldliners and a separate batch of 23 Inter Urban buses before March.

The quarterly transfer of unspent departmental cash also benefited the pay-off exit scheme for prison officers which may now be advanced more quickly. But the £10m given to the Department of Justice for the scheme will have to be paid back in two years time.

Some £7m of a further £10m for the Department of Health will help ease winter pressures in hospitals.

An agreement preventing the Department of Health from bidding for unspent Executive funds every quarter is understood to have been temporarily waived by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

The main loser from the decisions, announced in the Assembly, is Environment Minister Alex Attwood who had bid for more than £100m to help finance the reduction of 26 councils to 11.

Mr Wilson’s DUP colleague Lord Morrow said MLAs were “perplexed” that around £40m had not been spent.

Mr Kennedy said 23 buses will be used on inter urban routes not covered by Goldline services and would improve the fleet’s average age.

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