Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland budget announced with health spending increase

A budget has been imposed on Northern Ireland by Secretary of State James Brokenshire, marking a significant step towards direct rule.

The 2017/2018 budget brings an increase in health spending of 5.4%.

Mr Brokenshire had warned government services could start running out by the end of the month without a budget in place.

Despite the absence of a devolved government in Northern Ireland, the new budget keeps local ministries solvent.

Monday's budget plan does not include the £1bn package promised to the DUP as part of the confidence and supply agreement with Theresa May's minority Conservative government.

Overall there has been an increase of 3.2% in spending - although this is cancelled out when inflation is taken into account.

On Monday evening James Brokenshire presented the Budget Bill for Northern Ireland to Westminster.

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney said the legislation marked a "significant development".

"I acknowledge that this step has been taken by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with reluctance and at the latest possible stage in order to seek to preserve the role of the devolved institutions to decide on budgetary and other matters within their responsibility when they are operating again," he said.

Northern Ireland has been without an executive for more than 10 months since the January collapse of Stormont.

Despite protracted negotiations, Northern Ireland's two largest parties Sinn Fein and the DUP have been unable to reach an agreement to restore power-sharing.

The full budget for 2016/2017 can be viewed on the Department of Finance website here.

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