Belfast Telegraph

10% of public sector workers to go

Around 20,000 jobs are to be slashed from Northern Ireland's public sector following a political deal to safeguard powersharing.

The posts will go over the next four years after money was borrowed in Stormont's budget for a voluntary exit scheme plus a freeze on recruitment, Stormont finance minister Simon Hamilton said. The planned reduction represents 10% of the public sector workforce.

Extra loans from the Treasury increases the country's indebtedness to £1.8 billion or £1,000 per head of population, twice that in Scotland, in an effort to tackle an historic lack of infrastructure.

Money has been set aside to help police combat the threat from dissident republicans opposed to the peace process and as well as £40 million to deal with the toxic legacy of past violence and investigate historic offences.

Mr Hamilton said: "In many respects, the most difficult decisions on public spending have yet to come.

"No one wants cuts, but I believe that in agreeing this budget we have done the right thing.

"We have accepted the realities facing us and have done what we can to protect and support what is most important to our people."

The final budget makes additional allocations of more than £150 million, most of it following changes announced last autumn to how Northern Ireland's public sector is funded by Westminster. Schools, the health service and a government jobs agency which pays multi-million pound grants to encourage foreign direct investment are among those to benefit.

Striking a budget was a key precursor for the implementation of many aspects of the recent Stormont House political deal on a range of long-standing disputes surrounding power-sharing.

It means the Government at Westminster can press ahead with legislation to devolve the power to set corporation tax levels to the Executive.

However, the three smaller parties in the powersharing executive refused to endorse the budget agreed by Sinn Fein and the DUP.

An extra £27 million has been set aside to mitigate the worst impact of welfare reform during the next financial year, Mr Hamilton told the Stormont assembly. A dispute between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists over the issue had caused deadlock in the devolved institutions.

An additional £204 million will go to the Department of Health and an extra £65 million for the Education Department in 2014/15.

An extra £20 million has been allocated to meet pressures on the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as it deals with a severe threat from dissident republicanism.

Deputy chief constable Drew Harris said: "This funding will make a real difference to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe.

"It will be used in the provision of frontline services in the community, protecting the most vulnerable in our society and combating the threat of serious harm from organised crime and violent dissident republicans."

An extra £20 million was allocated to help universities and colleges build a skilled workforce. Another £38.5 million will help build a new campus of the University of Ulster in Belfast.

Most of the extra money has flowed from changes to the amount received from the block grant from London to Belfast, a consequence of extra money allocated to the NHS in England.

Mr Hamilton said: "Despite allocating an additional £150 million in this budget, it would be a misjudgment to believe that we can take our foot off the pedal of reform.

"A better budget than we might have dared to imagine six months ago does not mean that difficult decisions can be avoided."

Key points in the budget include:

:: An additional £204 million for the Department of Health to help protect frontline services, a 3.4% increase on last year;

:: An extra £65 million for the Education Department on top of that already allocated in an earlier draft budget to alleviate pressure on classrooms;

:: The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to receive £3 million for job creation agency Invest NI;

:: The Department for Regional Development will receive £5 million for bus services in towns and road repairs. Extra street lighting repairs will be carried out during the current year;

:: The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is to receive £1.5 million for victims' services;

:: A total of £10 million has been allocated to a shared education and housing scheme called Together: Building a United Community.

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