| 15.8°C Belfast

NI health service given extra £90m as Executive redistributes unspent cash


Finance Minister Conor Murphy

Finance Minister Conor Murphy

Finance Minister Conor Murphy

Northern Ireland's under-pressure health service has received an additional £90m as part of a £250m reallocation of Stormont funds.

The £12m required to extend free school meal support for around 100,000 children over the summer months is included in the June monitoring round.

The spending plans also include £2.5m for the set-up costs of the controversial Troubles pensions scheme.

More than £10m has been provided to support the childcare sector, which has been severely hit during lockdown.

Monitoring rounds reallocate unspent funds within Stormont and happen three times a year.

The exercise had been delayed by the ongoing dispute over the victims' compensation scheme.

Sinn Fein is unhappy about criteria for payments that could potentially exclude former paramilitary prisoners, while the Executive as a whole is at odds with the Government over how the scheme will be funded.

While those issues remain unresolved, ministers have signed off on funds that will enable the scheme to be set up.

Unveiling the outcome of the exercise to the Assembly, Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: "The allocations made today will provide vital funding for our health service, vulnerable people and businesses.

"A further £90m has been allocated to health. I have allocated £12m for a summer food scheme, £12m for summer activities and £10.5m for childcare.

"Over £15m has been provided for the most vulnerable. This will help meet increased benefit delivery costs, assist vulnerable people to live independently and will provide support for the homeless. I am also allocating £20m for business start-ups and investment in tourism. In addition, I have allocated £4m to assist the arts sector and £2m for the sports sector."

Other allocations include:

  • £35.5m for infrastructure, including £20m for Translink, £10m for other transport lost income and £5.5m for NI Water;
  • £25m for Ulster University greater Belfast development;
  • £13.5m for the Courts Service, PSNI and Prison Service;
  • £3.6m for education authority pressures and £300,000 for school uniform grants;
  • £2.5m for higher education;
  • £2.2m for Invest NI;
  • £500,000 for Covid-19 public information communications.

The summer food scheme had been proposed by the DUP Education Minister Peter Weir. It will provide help during July and August to families who were eligible for free school meals payments up to the end of June.

There had been doubt over whether the money would be found for the scheme after reports, which were denied, that Sinn Fein had linked the funding to changes to eligibility criteria for the Troubles pensions.

Almost 57,000 families representing over 102,000 children will now receive payments of £13.50 per child per week.

Mr Weir said: "The issue of holiday hunger is a real concern to myself and Executive colleagues. These payments will help ensure that those children most in need do not go hungry during the summer months."

The Education Authority's Eat Well Live Well programme will also be extended over July and August to provide healthy food for up to 5,000 young people.

The £12m for an autumn learning support programme and summer activities will, meanwhile, help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"The details have still to be worked out, but it is likely to include support for literacy and numeracy and nurturing emotional health and wellbeing," Mr Weir said.

As well as £10.5m for childcare, the need to be a key worker will no longer apply for access.

Aoife Hamilton of Employers For Childcare said: "This will be critical support to assist the childcare sector, whether in enabling settings to reopen or supporting the recovery of those who have already done so as they put in place the measures needed to deliver safe, high-quality childcare."

However, some £65m earmarked to help local businesses cope with Covid-19 restrictions has not yet been spent.

Mr Murphy said areas like childcare, sole traders and firms with multiple premises had made bids for the surplus cash.

The Executive has delivered rates holidays and support schemes aimed at small businesses and those particularly hard-hit, such as tourism, retail and hospitality bodies.

Mr Murphy told the Assembly: "One thing you have learned over the last couple of months is that there is a such huge variety and complexity of businesses we have here. It was very hard to design a scheme that will capture everybody."

A total of £53m has been received back by the Department of Finance. The rest is set aside for legal costs. The minister said some funding fell between supports designed for businesses and charities.

His Sinn Fein colleague John O'Dowd expressed frustration.

Mr O'Dowd said: "That will come as a body blow to many sectors who have not received support."

Belfast Telegraph