Health and education budgets in Northern Ireland are to escape immediate spending cuts, it was confirmed last night.
Stormont Ministers have agreed to ‘ringfence’ both the NHS and schools and colleges in the short-term by deferring savings of more than £45m until next year.
It will mean, however, the other Government departments must make savings of an estimated £19m in the current financial year.
But both the Departments of Health and Education — Stormont’s two biggest spenders — will have to agree to an external examination to find potential future savings.
Finance Minister Sammy |Wilson said UUP Health Minister Michael McGimpsey and Sinn Fein Education Minister |Caitriona Ruane must agree to investigations headed by |Stormont’s Performance and |Efficiency Delivery Unit (PEDU).
The DUP man said they must agree to kickstart the probe on the scope for — and how to |deliver — “significant” cost reductions.
In a letter penned to MLAs he said: “The main issue facing the Executive in this round was how best to address the £127.8m reduction in funding arising as a consequence of the announcement made by the UK coalition Government on May 24, 2010, to reduce public spending by £6bn in this financial year.
“In addition to this there were also some significant pressures identified by departments.
“In view of the option available to defer some, or all, of the reduction to next year it was considered practical to first look at addressing key pressures before determining how to address the £127.8m required reduction.”
After the latest quarterly monitoring round, the “residual pressure” — the amount of the original £127.8m remaining — stands at £64.2m, and with just over £45m of this being put off until the next financial year.
That leaves the other departments facing pro rata cuts of around £19m.
Mr Wilson said the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government had given the Executive the option to postpone implementing the cuts until next year, but Stormont ministers believed it was best to begin tackling the burden as soon as possible.
“However, DHSSPS (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety) and DE (Department of Education) would be exempt from these reductions on the condition that the respective ministers engage with me to commission work, through PEDU (Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit), on the scope for, and delivery of, significant cost re- ductions,” his letter went on.
Mr Wilson said he will make a full statement on the financial plans when the Assembly recess ends in September.