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Some Stormont departments running out of cash due to Covid pressures, says Finance Minister Conor Murphy

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Finance Minister Conor Murphy speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday

Finance Minister Conor Murphy speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday

Finance Minister Conor Murphy speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has warned that some Stormont departments could run out of money next month as a result of extra spending due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Executive has already allocated an additional £1.2bn in response to the crisis, however Mr Murphy said some departments are spending more than they can afford.

Speaking before the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Murphy said: "Our analysis suggests that at least five departments may run out of cash before the July 31, 2020, and this is the date when a budget bill would normally be expected to receive Royal Assent.

"One department may reach that limit as early as June 19."

Mr Murphy explained that, if Department of Finance was to follow the usual budget timeline, departments would simply run out of money before final budget estimates can be approved.

In order to avoid this scenario, the minister brought forward a motion to allow departments to continue to spend money until detailed budget estimates can be debated later in the year.

One department under increasing financial pressure is the Department for Infrastructure, in particular NI Water.

Speaking in the Assembly earlier, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said the water and sewerage provider is facing a "funding crisis" as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"NI Water provides vital services across Northern Ireland and ensuring that is financially support is not only vital to NI Water's future, but it is critical for protecting our communities," she said.

"It's important to look at the facts. Firstly, businesses have closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions, leading to a funding gap in NI Water of £30m. Secondly, despite the fall in business use, demand for water has increased overall during lockdown, as we are using more water at home.

"Sewer blockages have also increased with more wet wipes being flushed down drains and NI Water has also had to change its working practices to keep frontline workers safe. All of this means they are incurring extra costs."

Ms Mallon added that NI Water has been unable to avail of the business support provided to private business by the government due to the pandemic.

Months before the coronavirus outbreak took hold, NI Water was already facing financial difficulties, warning in January that it needs at least £2.5bn to address capacity issues and to continue providing essential water and wastewater services.

Belfast Telegraph