Belfast Telegraph

£410m deal boost proves cynics wrong: DUP

Key spending areas unveiled in NI’s £12bn budget plan

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP says it has proved “the cynics” wrong with the Government’s announcement that £410m of its confidence and supply deal with the Tories will be included in a new Stormont budget.

In the absence of devolved ministers, Secretary of State Karen Bradley unveiled the Government’s £12bn spending plan for Northern Ireland in a written statement to Parliament yesterday.

It includes almost half of the package secured by the DUP for supporting Theresa May’s minority government. While Downing Street insists it doesn’t want to see the return of direct rule, a budget from Westminster will be viewed as a step in that direction.

The £410m of the ‘confidence and supply’ money includes £200m for key infrastructure projects; £100m for a health service transformation initiative; £80m for immediate health and education pressures; and £30m for mental health and deprivation programmes. The budget sees a 4.5% rise in domestic rates, the largest increase in over a decade.

DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed Mrs Bradley’s intervention “to give departments certainty and fund public services for the next financial year”.

She said: “Departments living hand-to-mouth is no way to run public services. Cynics doubted the confidence and supply money would ever be delivered, but it has helped achieve an improved budget compared to the one that many feared.

“Our efforts will help alleviate pressures in health and education, tackle issues with mental health and deprivation, transform our NHS and build new infrastructure.”

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill      said the budget contained only “stop-gap” measures. “This is a disappointing budget which doesn’t provide the resources needed for the public services our people deserve,” she said.

“It’s not good for householders, for victims, for health, for our economy, our colleges or the homeless.

“Seven departments, including those which serve vulnerable communities, housing and arts, face real-terms decreases.”

UUP leader Robin Swann welcomed Mrs Bradley’s announcement on a budget but said it should be a local finance minister producing one. “In the absence of an executive, I have long believed it necessary for it to proceed through Parliament,” he said.

“Those likely to complain the loudest about this step towards direct rule are the same people who are blocking the local institutions in the first place.

“Whilst the £100m investment for health transformation may sound reassuring, I fear it’s come too late. Even if it hasn’t, in the absence of a local minister, how are decisions even going to be taken?”

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said: “This is a direct rule budget from London directed by the DUP. This budget puts the DUP in the driving seat.

“The failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore power-sharing has given London and the DUP a free hand in our affairs. We have reached a very difficult and distressing point.”

Ms Hanna said her party would meet the head of the civil service “to ensure services are safeguarded but also that transparency and public accountability are at the core of any budgetary allocations.”

The Alliance Party gave a “cautious welcome” to money for the implementation of the Bengoa recommendations on health but said the lack of political direction was a barrier to true reform.

MLA Paula Bradshaw said: “There are significant gaps in areas across the health service such as elective surgery and social care, and improving technology for care workers, where this money can provide real value and better outcomes for those who rely on the service.

“However, the fact remains a year ago this week we elected politicians to take decisions but too many have failed to accept the responsibility which comes with the mandate they received.”

Mrs Bradley said she had engaged intensively with civil servants in formulating the spending plan and had also discussed the situation with the main Stormont parties.

Government Departments: £million (2018-19)/ Change (%):

  • Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: 194.1/2.1%
  • Communities: 900.2/-1.6%
  • Economy: 763.3/0%
  • Education: 1,939.4/4.3%
  • Finance: 136.6/-4%
  • Health: 5,306.2/5.5%
  • Infrastructure: 370.2/1.1%
  • Justice: 1,029.5/0.3%
  • The Executive Office: 55.3/-4%

Non Ministerial Department: £million (2018-19)/ Change (%):

  • NI Assembly Commission: 35.9/-6.5%

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