Belfast Telegraph

Extra £432m for Northern Ireland public services

An extra £432 million has been raised for public services in Northern Ireland, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said today.

Health, education, employment and learning and regional development will all benefit, he added.

An increase in the amount of property rates brought in, use of an "invest to save" fund and an overcommitment by the government over the four-year budget anticipates extra revenue generating opportunities taken up in future by departments.

Mr Wilson also announced plans to impose a levy on large out-of-town shopping developments to subsidise extra rates relief for small businesses.

"This is a budget that supports the community, grows the economy and reflects the needs and aspirations of the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

The money over four years included:

  • £120 million for the Department of Health supplemented by a further £69 million following an internal reclassification of some money;
  • £154 million for the Department of Education;
  • £51 million for the Department of Employment and Learning;
  • £107 million for the Department for Regional Development.

The rates boost has happened because bills were rising in line with inflation and are expected to increase more. Land and Property Services has also been doing well collecting the money.

The Invest to Save fund will give an extra £25 million a year. Over-commitment of £30 million a year in current day-to-day spending and £30 million capital building funding each year will also raise extra money.

Cash earmarked for the Royal Exchange project to renovate part of Belfast has been put on hold until the next budget period and was available for redistribution.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has been vocal in his criticism of the draft budget. Mr McGimpsey, fellow UUP Employment and Learning Minister Danny Kennedy and SDLP Social Development Minister Alex Attwood voted against last night's Executive decision to adopt the spending plan for the next four years.

An additional contribution of £120 million was made to the Department of Health and also a piece of internal bureaucracy will allow the department to spend an extra £69 million.

Mr Wilson said: "I recognise that this is still short of what the Health Minister has publicly said he feels is needed. However, while his statement of need has been made publicly and often, the Executive still awaits the presentation of a robust case from the Health Minister."

He said a report on cost pressures facing the department also set out savings which could be made. Every month's delay will reduce the amount of achievable savings in 2014/15 by £5 million.

"I regard the case as articulated by the minister as not proven," Mr Wilson added.

He said final judgment on the position of the Department of Health would be reserved until the work of a team sent into the department to identify efficiencies had concluded.

The Department of Education has been given an extra £114 million in day-to-day spending power and a further £40 million for capital investment.

Employment and Learning has received a further £51 million for current expenditure in recognition of its contribution to growth by upskilling the workforce and supporting people off welfare and into work.

The Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment is to receive another £2 million.

The Department for Finance and Personnel will bring forward proposals to extend the small business rate relief scheme, effectively doubling the current rates position.

Mr Wilson said: "I will be looking to cross-subsidise this by applying a levy to large retail properties, including major out-of-town shopping developments which have not fared too badly during this downturn compared to our smaller businesses."

Plans to fund the improvement of sports stadiums will be made on a six-year basis.

Around £3 million a year is intended to help support a childcare strategy which will reduce barriers to employment for parents.

Mr Wilson attacked his political opponents.

"While producing the budget was necessarily free of any selfish party political interests it is clear that some of the opposition to the budget has been for cynical political purposes. Some ministers simply could not take yes for an answer," he said.

"What the Executive has delivered today is proof of the growing maturity there is within our political system in that we can produce a fair, balanced budget for a four-year period even in the face of imminent elections."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph