Belfast Telegraph

Departments protected from cuts

Northern Ireland's health and education departments are to be protected from cuts of nearly £128 million imposed by central government.

In a letter sent to Assembly members by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, he revealed the Executive has decided to impose some of the savings now, with £45.1 million to be dealt with at a later date.

Mr Wilson said the Westminster Government had given the Executive the option to postpone implementing all the cuts until next year but Stormont ministers believed it was best to begin tackling the burden as soon as possible.

While health and education are ring-fenced from immediate cuts of up to £45 million they could have faced, both departments will have to agree to efficiency checks to see if savings can be made.

"The main issue facing the Executive in this round was how best to address the £127.8 million reduction in funding arising as a consequence of the announcement made by the UK coalition Government on May 24, to reduce public spending by £6 billion in this financial year," said the minister in his letter.

"In addition to this there were also some significant pressures identified by departments.

"In view of the option available to defer some, or all, of the reduction to next year it was considered practical to first look at addressing key pressures before determining how to address the £127.8 million required reduction."

After the latest round of financial reviews at the Assembly, where unspent money is redirected, the Department of Agriculture is the largest beneficiary and will receive £200 million.

Mr Wilson said, however, that the Executive decided that "in view of the constrained financial position expected next year" efforts should be made to identify areas where the Westminster cuts could begin to be implemented.

The minister said that as part of the plan agreed by the Executive, departments will face a proportional reduction in their budgets, understood to represent a figure of around £19 million. Given that the Health and Education departments have the largest budgets, they faced a potential loss of £45 million.

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