Belfast Telegraph

Welcome as £150m freed up by Simon Hamilton in final Budget

By John Mulgrew

Business leaders have welcomed an additional £150m freed up for Northern Ireland's final budget.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton revealed the extra cash had been found for the Executive's budget for 2015/16.

Most of that will go towards education - with some £60m being spent on frontline services.

Among other areas benefiting from the cash boost includes Invest NI, which will secure an additional £3m. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will also receive £2m.

Nigel Smyth, CBI Northern Ireland director, said the additional spending should "result in more manageable budget reductions with significantly less impact on our skills strategy".

"We strongly welcome the Executive's decision to revise the draft budget by allocating an extra £33m to the Department for Employment and Learning, of which we expect around £20m to be allocated to our universities and colleges," he said.

"We recognise the financial position the Executive is facing and the need for greater sustainability in our public finances.

"The commitment by the Executive to reforming and restructuring the public sector must now be taken forward with some rigour and in a strategic manner to ensure that services are protected and outcomes are improved."

Meanwhile, Ann McGregor, chief executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the additional funding was key to support skills and training across Northern Ireland - with the proposed devolution of corporation tax in 2017 paving the way for a need for more high-skilled staff.

"It is vitally important that the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) has sufficient budget to support the development of STEM programmes and retain the Assured Skills programme," she said.

"Under the original proposals, higher education institutions faced cuts of around 11% and potentially 1,100 fewer undergraduate places would be available next year as a result."

And while welcoming the additional funding, Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said it was "disappointing that full agreement across all five parties was not possible".

"NIIRTA welcomes the funding into further education as the proposed cuts would clearly have impacted on supporting the skills and training needs of small businesses as the economy begins to rebalance towards the private sector," he said.

"While it is good news that the minister has committed £20m for the small business rate relief scheme for this year, we are concerned about its long term future.

"This is an extremely challenging budget which rightly makes a priority of supporting economic development. It also is another step forward in the process of devolving corporation tax."

Belfast Telegraph