Belfast Telegraph

Minister warns over budget crisis

Parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly need to face political and financial reality and deal with the dire financial situation confronting power-sharing, an Executive minister has warned.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy issued the blunt message as he outlined the impact of the ongoing budgetary crisis on his department.

Mr Kennedy told Assembly question time he was having to make bids for additional in-year resource and capital funds totalling around £180 million in an attempt to shore up spending on pressure point areas such as roads maintenance, Translink services and NI Water's infrastructure.

He said some services were already operating on a skeleton basis due to a lack of funds, with his resource budget alone cut by £60 million on last year.

The Executive is currently facing an in-year funding gap of around £600 million - a large portion of which relates to the failure to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

A Sinn Fein/SDLP block on introducing the Government's welfare reforms in Northern Ireland has put the Stormont House deal, and the £350 million funding boost that comes with it, on hold.

Mr Kennedy expressed doubt he would be successful in obtaining the £39 million of resource and £141 million of capital funding bids in this month's quarterly "monitoring round" re-allocation of Executive funding.

The minister stressed the importance of getting the Executive's finances in order.

Suggesting his department's cupboard is bare, Mr Kennedy told MLAs he is in "Old Mother Hubbard land".

He said: "The smoke signals I am getting from the Department of Finance and Personnel and indeed around the Executive table are as to whether or not, first of all, we can agree a budget, let alone will there be any monies available for June monitoring.

"And frankly I am in Old Mother Hubbard land here and a lot of the services, we are already providing services at risk, at financial risk, and we can see the skeleton service that is available.

"We are in a very dire financial situation and it is time for parties around the Executive table and parties in this Assembly to face political and financial reality."

He added: "Talk is cheap but it takes money to buy whiskey."


From Belfast Telegraph