Belfast Telegraph

No more money for you, Edwin Poots is told by Peter Robinson

By Noel McAdam

Peter Robinson has stamped his authority on the health funding crisis enveloping his party by brokering an internal compromise - and telling his health minister to work with half of what he originally wanted.

After a Stormont Castle showdown, the first minister said DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots would work with what had already been agreed – a total of £80m.

While that is only half of what Mr Poots initially demanded in April, it is still seen by Mr Robinson as the bottom line for keeping the local health service ticking over.

Mr Robinson said the money consisted of £20m from the June monitoring round of re-allocated funding "on the understanding that the Finance Minister (Simon Hamilton) would seek a further £60m in the October monitoring round".

The DUP leader said: "This remains the position of the party on health spending and while it will be very difficult for the minister of health to manage, even with new resources, he is committed to working within his budget.

"Undoubtedly, there will be difficult decisions required but in the context of securing extra money, the minister of health has already indicated he can deal with the worst excesses of the measures he would otherwise be examining."

Mr Robinson's statement appears to draw a line under Mr Poots' persistent pleas for more cash, after the health minister had reduced his demands to £140m to maintain services at their current levels.

DUP Finance Minister Hamilton had also criticised Mr Poots for poor management of his health budget.

Although the spotlight has fallen on Mr Poots this week, the first minister continued to blame Sinn Fein's refusal to implement Westminster welfare reforms for the health service crisis.

"Money is being taken off our block grant because of their failure and we will have lost £100m by the end of this financial year and the penalties will rise in future years. Additional direct pressure on the health and all other budgets is Sinn Fein's responsibility," he said.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Stormont ministers have a month to declare any unspent cash which could be diverted to plug the financial gap facing the health service. The 13 departments have until October 2 to make clear to the Executive the extent of their 'underspends'.

And that date should mark the start of intense new negotiations on the next spending round with the Executive already agreed in principle to more spending cuts totalling £87m, according to Mr Hamilton. This is on top of the £78m agreed in the June monitoring round – though both health and education are now 'ringfenced'.

Yesterday, former finance minister Sammy Wilson said the party is committed to finding another £60m for Mr Poots in the next monitoring round.

But he also told The Stephen Nolan Show that he could not "twist the arms up the backs" of Sinn Fein ministers on the Executive to force them to agree.

But speaking after his own meeting with Mr Robinson yesterday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "We are working together to address those problems. Any decision on budgets will of course have to be agreed at a full meeting of the Executive but health remains a priority for Sinn Fein."

Ulster Unionist committee member Jo-Anne Dobson yesterday accused Mr Poots of playing politics "on the real cause for the current crisis in the health service".

"For Edwin Poots to try to blame the failure to implement welfare reform for the current crisis in the health service is indicative of a minister attempting to shirk off all responsibility," the Upper Bann MLA argued. "The current crisis is not a response to welfare reform, it is a direct fallout from the 2011-2015 budget settlement. This is something we warned about at the time when we opposed it at the Executive and in the Assembly.

"Had the minister been fully across his brief he would have known that there was a very serious budgetary crisis looming."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph