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£78m Stormont spending cuts is only the beginning

By Noel McAdam

Government departments in Northern Ireland are facing immediate spending cuts of almost £78m - and there could be even worse to come.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton warned the outcome of the next quarterly monitoring will be "just as harsh".

Unless the stalemate over welfare reform is resolved by January, the Treasury will take a further £87m out of the block grant.

After weeks of wrangling and delay, the two largest parties on the Executive yesterday voted through a package on the delayed June monitoring round – a redistribution of departmental cash left unspent.

Ministers put off any decision on the implementation of the national welfare changes until at least the next monitoring round – just two months away.

It also emerged the Assembly will not be recalled during the summer recess to debate the growing financial crisis facing the devolved administration.

In the current package, David Ford's Department of Justice, which includes the PSNI and courts, is taking the single biggest hit of £22.3m to be saved in the current financial year.

It is closely followed by the Department of Employment and Learning with £16.3m, and the Department for Social Development – which includes housing and welfare – at £13.5m.

Regional Development, Agriculture, Environment and Culture, Arts and Leisure must also find multi-million pound savings totalling £77.9m by the end of next March.

The reason for the immediate cross-departmental cuts is the decision, ratified at yesterday's 90-minute meeting, to ring-fence the Health and Education budgets.

Alliance ministers Mr Ford and Stephen Farry of DEL voted against the proposals, while UUP Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy abstained.

Mr Hamilton confirmed it meant "less money to create jobs, police our streets and create safer roads".

He added: "This is only the start with further cuts to be processed in the forthcoming October monitoring round."

In a statement sent to all 108 MLAs he added that the reductions which departments face in October "will be every bit as harsh".

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, the Finance Minister says: "The reductions of £77.9m to departmental budgets now are harsh but necessary. They are to assist in paying for over £30m of commitments already agreed by the Executive, as well as a much-needed allocation of £20m to DHSSPS."

He also rounds on Sinn Fein which, with the SDLP, has refused to agree to implement the welfare system changes initiated by the Westminster Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition two years ago.

His written statement to MLAs said "dogma and political opportunism have prevailed... the impact that they will have upon public service in Northern Ireland will be devastating because of the inability to some parties within the Executive to show the leadership required in welfare reform".

Further reading

Spending crisis isn't resolved, it's got worse, fumes Ford

DUP Health Minister blasted for poor budget control – by a minister from his own party  

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