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Civil servant taking charge of purse strings


Neil Gibson

Neil Gibson

Neil Gibson

This is the man who will control Northern Ireland’s public purse within weeks.

Department of Finance permanent secretary Neil Gibson will have the power to approve spending decisions across every government department from July 31.

Until then, despite the impasse over forming a Executive and, departments will be able to continue spending.

This is because of the Budget Bill that the Assembly passed before last month’s election.

Hopes are fading that the DUP will agree to form an Executive before the Assembly’s summer recess, which begins on July 2.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy confirmed that was the cut-off date for minister retaining spending control.

He said: “The lack of an Executive will still mean there is significant funding which cannot be allocated in 2022/23.

“This includes some £300million that has become available since the draft budget was announced.

“The Budget Bill will allow departments to continue spending until the summer.

“This, on its own, may provide time for a returning Executive to agree a budget and for another Budget Bill to be passed.

“However, if that is not the case, from July 31, the permanent secretary may approve the issue of cash and use of resources.”

Mr Murphy added that this would not “allow departments to plan effectively, nor provide the additional resources included in the draft budget”.

Mr Gibson is an economist who has held a number of senior roles across the private and public sectors, including a stint as chief Irish economist at the EY consultancy.

He was an external candidate for the position.

Speaking after he joined the civil service, Arlene Foster, described his appointment as “truly great”.

Mrs Foster, then first minister, said: “[This is] just what was needed — [he is] truly innovative, grounded in the reality of the Northern Ireland economy, yet aware of the enormous potential of this place.”

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