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Arlene Foster's alarm at the impact of cuts on road safety

By Noel McAdam

Stormont's Finance Minister has warned that new spending cuts proposed by departments are "quite alarming".

Arlene Foster said further reductions in the Department for Regional Development (DRD) outlined by its minister Danny Kennedy would lead to "health and safety issues on the roads".

Mrs Foster added her successor as Enterprise Minister, Jonathan Bell, had talked about withdrawing financial help to businesses through Invest NI.

The DUP minister gave an insight into the discussions when she briefed the committee monitoring her department.

Referring to the ongoing stalemate over welfare reform and the 'phantom' budget passed by the Assembly, she said: "It is a very critical time. I listened to the Enterprise Minister talk about stopping writing business for Invest NI, and to the Regional Development Minister set out very clearly that he will not be able to do things, which, actually, for me, was quite alarming, because it would lead to health and safety issues on roads."

The cash squeeze details emerged as it was confirmed the Executive had yet to finalise the June monitoring round, with only days left to August.

It has also been revealed that the amounts ministers are voting far exceed the money available.

Regional Development Minister Mr Kennedy said: "DRD is facing a very challenging financial situation this year. My department has put forward a number of bids to address the pressures."

He has made bids for cash to pay for essential road and street lighting maintenance, including the winter roads service, maintaining concessionary fares for senior citizens and for support for rural transport services.

He has also asked for cash to cover the delay in implementing Translink's efficiency programme to allow further consultation with the unions in an attempt to minimise the impact on services, and a capital bid of £104.4m to meet the "substantial shortfall" in the current maintenance budget.

A spokeswoman for Invest NI said the reference to "stopping writing business" probably referred to its ability to offer firm financial support through letters of offer, which are dependent on funding availability. But Invest NI has not been notified of any further funding cuts, she added.

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