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Minister Sammy Wilson doles out extra £32m for roads, employment and transport

By Liam Clarke

Roads, youth employment and public transport will be among the main beneficiaries of end-of-year savings produced by Government departments.

Stormont departments yesterday received an unexpected £32m boost when Finance Minister Sammy Wilson redistributed the unspent money.

The announcement came in the latest so-called monitoring round, where unspent money is surrendered by departments, before ministers make fresh bids for a share of what is gathered.

The public can now expect an extensive programme to repair roads between now and April.

Some £44.3m was available, but departments only put in spending bids totalling £32m at last Thursday's Executive meeting.

Mr Wilson told the Assembly: "Any further capital overspend that emerges over the next few months will be carried into the new year."

Under Treasury rules, only £50m can be carried over into next year's budget. Any surplus must return to Westminster.

Therefore departments have to find projects that are ready to proceed quickly. Mr Wilson hopes that he will not exceed the £50m carry over limit by the time the financial year ends in April.

The departments to gain are:

  • Regional Development (DRD) gets £10m to repair and maintain roads and buy 13 new buses. DRD is well-placed to bid for end-of-year money because it has road contractors ready to start work at short notice.
  • Employment and Learning (DEL) receives £8.2m, the bulk of which will be ploughed into a Steps to Work Programme. This offers advice, training and work experience to people out of work while claiming benefits. Anyone over 18, or single parents over 16, are eligible providing they are not working more than 16 hours a week. DEL will be able to provide 500 more places on the Step Ahead programme which offers participants paid work experience in the community and voluntary sector.
  • Social Development (DSD) receives £2m to provide improved insulation in 900 houses.

After he left the chamber Mr Wilson was asked how he found the £120m extra for education announced by the minister John O'Dowd last week.

He said that next year's £30m was covered by "Barnett consequential", which describes money added to the block grant to match increased spending in England.

He said: "I have identified where we intend to find money in years three and four, we will find it in Barnett consequential, we will find it from the returns that departments make, we will find it from reallocations within the budget."

Mr Wilson also revealed that Mr O'Dowd had agreed to make more than £20m in savings in school transport and meals as recommended by a Stormont watchdog.

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