Belfast Telegraph

Head of civil service sets deadline for Northern Ireland budget to be set

By Jonathan Bell

The head of the civil service has said "crunch time" for a decision on the Northern Ireland budget for the forthcoming financial year is the start of February.

David Sterling said that while he would prefer a local Executive run by elected MLAs in place "someone had to make a decision".

In a rare interview, given to the BBC, Mr Sterling, who has been the effective head of government in Northern Ireland, said the current situation could not continue, saying he didn't think it could have lasted as long as it has.

This week marked one year since the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister bringing down the Stormont institutions. Talks between the parties have failed to produce a breakthrough while the Secretary of State has had to intervene in ensuring public services continue.

"I never thought we would be able to survive this long without mininsters," said Mr Sterling, "Every day it is becoming more challenging because every day there are decisions that need to be made that require the direction of ministers.

"Without that direction it is becoming increasing difficult obviously to continue to deliver services people deserve."

Mr Sterling said the lack of an agreed budget for the incoming financial year meant departments could not plan ahead "with confidence".

"The beginning of February is the crunch point," he said.

"If we look at the challenges facing the health service, the sooner they have budget, the sooner they can plan services they can provide to citizens."

He added: "Speaking on behalf of the whole civil service we fervently want a functioning local Executive back. We need our ministers back we are part of this place and part of this society. It is important to us we have our own people making these decisions on the allocations of resources and the delivery of public services.

"If there isn't an Executive then someone will have to take the decision and put a budget in place."

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