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DUP and Sinn Fein 'agree to new Stormont budget deal'

By Liam Clarke

The DUP and Sinn Fein have agreed a new budget which will leave all departments better off compared to the draconian draft budget issued in October, sources have claimed.

"Health, education and further education look like the big winners but this will take time to study. My impression is that no department will walk away screaming," one source who had seen the document said.

It is understood free transport for over 60s, a benefit not available in Britain or the Republic, will be retained and student numbers at local universities will be boosted. "The aim is to keep public services running and to find answers to the considerable fears outlined in the Belfast Telegraph in the last few days, some of them about schools," an insider said.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DETI) has had its budget topped up to ensure that it can pay promised incentives to investors. Last year DETI promoted around 7,000 jobs due to come on stream in the next few years but which will have to be grant-assisted.

Executive parties are now poring over the paper, prepared by Simon Hamilton and his team in the Department of Finance.

"It will take time to work out the details and see if it is acceptable," a representative of one of the smaller Executive parties said.

The budget is to be discussed at the Executive this evening. If it is agreed, the full details will be presented to the Assembly on Monday by Peter Robinson.

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