12/01/2010

'Money Matters' As Stormont Business Continues

Despite the ongoing political 'crisis' over the Executive's First Minister and his wife's financial affairs, day-to-day Assembly business continues.

This morning, NI Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson launched the Executive's draft revised spending plans.

He outlined how £367m is going to be cut from the NI budget next year and said that while water charges would continue to be deferred in 2010-11, it is at a cost of £213m to the Executive.

Cost-cutting measures include the Department of Health facing cuts of £113.5m and the Department of Regional Development facing cuts of £80.3m.

"Although the Executive has made significant progress in delivering the targets set out in the Programme for Government since the original Budget plans were set in January 2008, it also needs to be recognised that there have been significant changes in circumstances since then," he explained.

"I took the view last summer that pro-active early intervention was prudent to ensure that public finance remained in a sustainable position," he explained.

The Minister continued: "Although there are a broad range of financial pressures facing the Executive, the main issue is in terms of the further deferral of water and sewerage charges for domestic customers.

"Whilst this will save the average household some £400 from this element of their household bills, it also results in a cost of over £210m," he noted, adding that "there are further costs from the Civil Service Equal Pay Claim".

He said that whilst measures have been taken to provide greater scope for the Executive to respond to emerging issues during the course of the financial year, in overall terms, he said "my assessment is that the Executive is faced with a net pressure of approximately £367m next year".

"In order to prepare for the future, I have also established a £26m Invest to Save Fund, which will provide support to public services in the delivery of savings, in the context of the expected further constraints in UK public sector spending in the coming years," he said.

"Therefore, a targeted approach has been adopted with, for example, the lowest level of savings in percentage terms for current spending proposed for the Department of Health.

"Unfortunately, the level of savings required meant that it was simply not possible to exempt entire departments from the process, although I would expect that my Ministerial colleagues would seek to reduce the costs of bureaucracy in the first instance."

Referring to the next stage in the process the Minister stated: "Following the launch of the Executive's draft proposals today, there will now be a period of consultation with the Assembly.

"Although I would have much preferred there to be more time for this important part of the process, final plans need to be agreed by the start of the new financial year in order to minimise the potential disruption to public services."

(BMcC/GK)

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