Belfast Telegraph

Secretary of State sets Northern Ireland budget and releases £410m as part of DUP confidence and supply agreement

By Mark Edwards

The UK government has tabled a budget for Northern Ireland in the ongoing absence of devolved ministers because of the powersharing crisis.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley unveiled the £12 billion Westminster spending plan for the region in a written statement to Parliament.

The budget includes £410 million of the £1 billion investment package secured by the DUP as part of its confidence and supply (C&S) agreement with the minority Conservative administration.

DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed the Secretary of State’s intervention, saying it would give Stormont departments “certainty” for the next financial year.

She said: “Cynics doubted the C&S money would ever be delivered but today it has helped achieve an improved Budget compared to the one that many feared. Our efforts will help alleviate pressures in health and education, tackle issues with mental health and deprivation, transform our NHS and build new infrastructure.”

Sammy Wilson welcomed the budget

The DUP’s East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said: “We welcome the boost in resource spending in health and education as well as increases in justice, agriculture and infrastructure.

“The DUP has been able to ensure a 5.5% increase for hospitals (£71.7m), a 4.3% (£36.5m) increase for schools. This will be welcome relief for pressures on the frontline.

"£100m will be allocated from the health transformational fund to enable investment in reforms within our hospitals. This investment should lead to better and more efficient services as well as future savings.”

The budget has an additional £200m being allocated for infrastructure and will see the retention of the small business rates relief scheme and business rates being limited to an inflationary increase.

Mr Wilson added: “The DUP would far prefer to see a Budget for Northern Ireland being laid before the Assembly by a locally elected and locally accountable Finance Minister. 

"The last Sinn Fein Finance Minister failed to bring forward a budget before his party collapsed the Executive. For thirteen months Sinn Fein has blocked attempts to reestablish a local Executive. Their elevation of narrow political interest over the real needs of the people have made it necessary for the Secretary of State to step in and deliver this Budget.”

Mairtin O Muilleoir

Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin Ó Muilleoir said: “This is a disappointing budget which doesn’t provide the resources needed to provide the public services our people need and deserve – seven government departments are having their budgets reduced.

“This budget is tough on householders. As part of their austerity agenda, the Tories are forcing ordinary householders here to shoulder an above inflation rate increase.

“This budget is tough on victims. There is no money here to fund legacy inquests or to start addressing the historical institutional abuse issue.

“This budget is not good for our economy, for our universities or for the homeless. Just two departments get increases but these are not enough to meet the demand — the health department alone needs a six per cent increase just to stand still. This budget comes nowhere near meeting that need.

“The much-heralded ‘additional’ DUP money is not additional at all but is being used to plug gaps due to continuing cuts to our budgets by the British Government – with, of course, the full agreement of the DUP.”

Claire Hanna

SDLP Finance spokesperson Claire Hanna said the budget puts the DUP in the “driving seat.”

She said: “This is a direct rule budget from London directed by the DUP. While the SDLP recognises the need for a budget to be set to keep public services afloat – a budget for local people and local services should be set in Stormont not in Westminster.

“This budget presents more questions than answers. Primarily, how can it be acceptable that the DUP Confidence and Supply is allocated to departments without any political accountability?

“This budget puts the DUP in the driving seat. The failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore power-sharing has given London and the DUP a free hand in our affairs. We have reached a very difficult and distressing point.”

The UUP's Robin Swann

UUP leader Robin Swann welcomed the budget.

He said: "A Northern Ireland Finance Minister should have been the one to produce and present this Budget, yet in the absence of a local Executive I have long believed it necessary for it to proceed through Parliament.

"Those likely to complain the loudest about this obvious and latest step towards Direct Rule are the very same people who are blocking the local institutions in the first place. 

"In the past they have also proven themselves to be fiscally incompetent, so I suspect their morally vacuous cries will now land on deaf ears."

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