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Stalling on welfare reforms 'may hit Northern Ireland's block grant from Westminster'

By NOEL MCADAM

Northern Ireland's block grant from Westminster will be hit unless progress on welfare reform is made in the near future, the Assembly has been warned.

Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, has said unless there is implementation of key aspects of the changes here by next January the block grant will be "adjusted".

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson yesterday sounded alarm bells over the prospect the province could fall out of line with the nationally planned upheaval.

"The costs are potentially huge. I cannot emphasise enough that we must avoid incurring these penalties.

"The Executive and this Assembly must therefore now make progressing Welfare Reform a key priority," he said. As the details of the latest spending monitoring round were announced to MLAs in the penultimate plenary session before the two-month summer recess, it was revealed that work may start on the Magherafelt bypass by September of next year with £40m set aside for it – extending from the Moneymore Road to the Castledawson roundabout.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson's other reallocations included £59m to the Department for Regional Development, £55m to the Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety, and £19m to the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Department, and an extra £25m for roadsmaintenance.

Other measures included:

* An extra £9m to improve access to finance for businesses.

* Greater flexibility around spending at further education colleges.

* A £10m agri-food loan scheme.

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