Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Executive agrees cuts for the next Stormont budget

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed cuts for the next Stormont budget, the Finance Minister has said.

Sammy Wilson claimed ministers had reached an “agreement in principle” on achieving the £370 million savings he believes are needed to balance the books in 2010.

The cuts were discussed at an executive meeting on Thursday however Mr Wilson has remained tight lipped about the exact details of the proposed cuts.

He said he would give the assembly the full details in the New Year.

“I want to report to the Assembly before I would do anything,” Mr Wilson told BBC radio. “Departments have to go away anyway.

“They know what they need to reduce for their budget. They have got to decide what items they are going to reduce in that budget.

“There is a need for an equality assessment of the cuts which are going to be made. It’s another bit of bureaucracy which will take a week or two.

“Then there will be a report to the Assembly and Assembly members will have an opportunity to question me.

“That’s the proper procedure. I would have hoped that the budget for next year would be in place by about February.”

The progress on the budget plan is an indication that process of government is still continuing despite the looming political stalemate over the devolution of policing and justice.

The DUP and Sinn Fein are divided over the timing of the devolution of law and order powers to the assembly and Martin McGuinness has accused Peter Robinson of delaying a deal and has called for agreement before Christmas to avoid a crisis.

Mr Wilson said he was pleased the parties had pulled together to tackle the issue.

“I was quite pleased we got the work done,” Mr Wilson continued.

“We worked together to get the thing resolved. I would have liked to have seen this done in September or October not just before Christmas. I would have liked to have been reporting to the Assembly before Christmas. But that was not possible.”

Earlier this year a confidential memo highlighted the deferral of water charges, dealing with swine flu and civil service backpay as the main budget pressures for next year.

The document, which was leaked in September, estimated that the cost of dealing with swine flu could set the Department of Health back £55m, while delaying water charges in 2011 could cost up to £420m.

In the memo Mr Wilson had called for “early action” and claimed “difficult decisions” had to be made.

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