Householders have been spared the financial burden of water charges for another year — despite the Assembly facing cuts of nearly £400m.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said the £400 per year ‘tap tax’ would not be passed on to voters as he revealed the Draft Expenditure Plans for 2010/11.
He told the Assembly yesterday: “Following the previous |deferrals, domestic charges will also not be introduced in 2010-11, which will provide an additional saving to the average household who use these public services of approximately £400 next year compared to the situation under Direct Rule.”
However, the move means that the 11 Stormont departments must shoulder the burden of the £367m shortfall in the next financial year.
But the Finance Minister hinted that the introduction of household water and sewage charges were inevitable.
“Although the Executive was able to cover the cost of deferring water charges in 2009-10 as part of the June Monitoring Round, the experience of 2008-09 and the year to date is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to source sufficient resources to address emerging pressures, whilst at the same time reducing the level of over commitment to a prudent level,” he said.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has blasted plans to cut more than £100m from his budget.
Mr McGimpsey said he was “disgusted” the Executive had not found a way to cover costs without hitting vital health services.
Under Mr Wilson's plan presented to the Assembly health suffers the largest monetary loss and is faced with a cut of £113.5m.
“This has not been fairly dealt with. I have written to Executive colleagues saying I have completely opposed this approach,” he said.
“We (the Executive) have found ourselves embarrassed to the tune of £400m.
“We need to find this money quickly and have gone back to where the biggest budget is and they are taking over £100m out of health, and I have told them it is outrageous that they would be doing so.
“I think particularly when they know how under-funded health is, and they are also aware that when you are short of money you have to prioritise, you go to those things that are least important.
“As far as the people of Northern Ireland are concerned, health is the most important. It is about life saving and pain and distress.”
He said of the cuts: “I am absolutely disgusted. They can't keep on hammering the health service because we get the biggest budget. We get the biggest budget because health is the biggest need.”
But Mr Wilson defended his blueprint.
“The Executive was critically aware of the need to protect priority frontline services where possible,” he said.
“Therefore, a targeted approach has been adopted with, for example, the lowest level of savings in percentage terms for current spending proposed for the Department of Health.”
He added: “Unfortunately, the level of savings required meant that it was simply not possible to exempt entire departments from the process.
“Although I would expect my ministerial colleagues would seek to reduce the costs of bureaucracy in the first instance.”