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Theresa Villiers' warning to Stormont: Civil servants will take over finances if you fail

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Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Failure by Stormont leaders to agree a draft budget will force civil servants to take control of financial decisions next year, the Northern Ireland Secretary has warned.

Theresa Villiers urged the Executive parties to "buckle down" and strike a deal on the 2015/16 spending plans before a deadline of the end of this week.

Chancellor George Osborne set the time limit for agreement as a condition of allowing the power-sharing coalition access to an emergency £100 million loan from the National Reserve earlier this month to help ease a £220m funding crisis that had pushed the administration to the brink of busting its budget.

Ms Villiers stressed the need for consensus to be reached as DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton prepared to circulate a proposed budget paper to the other four parties for consideration.

A proportion of the £220m shortfall is a £87m penalty imposed on the Executive by the Treasury for failing to implement the UK Government's welfare reforms - a sum that will increase the longer it takes to introduce the controversial policies.

Ms Villiers, who is currently chairing the political talks aimed at resolving a broad range of Stormont disputes, including those over budgetary matters and welfare reform, said civil servants taking the reins of spending would represent a "disastrous step back" for devolution.

"It is vitally important that the draft budget is agreed by the end of this month," she said.

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"Ultimately, if there isn't agreement by the politicians then someone has to start allocating money and ultimately that would be the permanent secretaries of the different departments and that would be a huge failure on the part of the Executive, it would be a disastrous step back if the politicians really found that it was so difficult to agree a budget that they just couldn't do it and they were left with a system where civil servants had to make the allocations."


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