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SDLP accuse DUP and Sinn Fein of 'spending' secrecy plot

By Noel McAdam

Published 14/09/2016

Nichola Mallon of the SDLP
Nichola Mallon of the SDLP

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been accused of closing ranks to avoid public scrutiny over the latest allocations of Stormont cash.

Opposition SDLP MLAs blamed the two parties who make up the Executive for withholding information and reducing transparency at Stormont.

The party said both Sinn Fein and the DUP had refused to answer questions on the share-out of unspent departmental money in June.

Nichola Mallon MLA said: "The Executive's vision of a 'fresh start' is a descending cloud of secrecy around their business and around public finances."

The North Belfast MLA added: "It seems that one of the first acts of the new Executive was to further reduce transparency and close ranks against public scrutiny.

"Previously in-year monitoring round bids were subject to committee scrutiny and public debate, allowing everyone to see where resources were being allocated and where Ministers believed pressures existed.

"Now Sinn Fein and the DUP have decided to withhold that information following several requests from SDLP MLAs.

"It is absolutely unacceptable and will be challenged."

Her comments came after Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen was asked for a copy of her department's bid in the June monitoring round of spending.

In her answer, the DUP Minister said: "We are now in a different environment, particularly with the introduction of an official opposition.

"Therefore processes have changed.

"The more streamlined Executive, working to a common purpose, is able to determine relative priorities in departments and agree allocations on this basis.

"The new approach allows for an objective assessment of genuine pressures across departments.

"It is more appropriate that the focus should be on what the outcome of the monitoring round means for public services," the Agriculture Minister commented.

DUP Communities Minister Paul Givan also underlined that the change in the make-up of the Executive had led to a different approach to in-year monitoring.

"This has replaced the previous 'bidding' process and will allow for a more objective assessment of genuine pressures across departments," he added.

The share-out in June saw an extra £72m earmarked to help deal with pressures in the health service.

There was also a further £30m for schools - £5m of it targeted at special educational needs - along with £25m for roads maintenance and building schemes and also £20m for further education.

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