NORTHERN Ireland now has £912m for the fight against Covid-19, the Finance Minister has said as he delivered the Executive’s 2020/21 Budget.
Around £639m of the sum has already been allocated, and around £100m will be used to fund a three-month rates holiday.
New measures to help households and firms cope with the impact of the virus include the freezing of the regional element of the domestic rate.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy also announced that he had reduced business rates by 12.5% - bringing a total reduction in rates of 18% when combined with the impact of Reval 2020, in which rateable values of commercial properties were reassessed.
The Finance Minister said: “Although I decided to reduce business rates in advance of the Covid-19 threat, this reduction will help with the economic recovery on the other side of this pandemic.
“I am also renewing Small Business Rates Relief and the Rural ATM Scheme.”
The Finance Minister announced a real term increase for all departments of 8.1% in cash terms.
The budget also allocated £12.2bn of resource funding and £1.6bn in capital funding, of which £847m is for ministers to allocate to high priority projects.
And £278.6m will go to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) for farm support payments to replace EU support. Another £70m of centrally held funding will be allocated to departments during the year.
And £558m will be given to the Department for Infrastructure, and £295m to the Department of Health.
Mr Murphy said: “Development of this budget began before the onset of Covid-19 and has been overshadowed by the unprecedented Public Health Crisis we face.
“There is no doubt that we remain in a challenging financial environment. Protecting lives and livelihoods from this pandemic is now the Executive’s number one priority.”
Minister Murphy added: “The Executive will do all in its power to ensure this Budget and the additional Covid-19 funding delivers for our citizens, workers and businesses in this time of crisis.”
But he said that in real terms, the block grant remained around £360m below pre-austerity levels. “Over that time the pressure on vital public services has increased," he said..
Public expectations were raised considerably by the New Decade New Approach document but the British Government did not provide the funding necessary to deliver these priorities. However, I am able to deliver a Budget that, compared to last year, provides real term increases to all departments.
He said that “in difficult circumstances, this Budget delivers additional funding for our citizens, for our for workers, and for our businesses”.