Northern Ireland 2019-20 Budget Published

The Northern Ireland 2019-20 Budget, which will allow departments to plan for the incoming financial year, has been published by the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley.

The combined effect of additional funding and flexibilities, together with anticipated in year monitoring allocations and the delivery of savings during 2019-20 will enable departments to further protect and preserve key services.

The Budget is supported by a range of funding and flexibilities provided by the UK Government. This includes:

• £140 million of new funding, in recognition of the lack of opportunity for more fundamental service reconfiguration

• £333 million of funding from the Confidence and Supply agreement which provides £100 million in support of health transformation, £30 million for mental health and severe deprivation, £3 million for broadband and £200 million for capital spending on key infrastructure projects

• Agreement to £130 million of existing funding normally ring-fenced for capital to be invested in ongoing public service provision.

• Allowing up to £85 million resource and £8 million capital funding from 2018-19 to be carried forward - this is in excess of the amounts normally permitted under the Budget Exchange Scheme

An additional £28.6 million will be generated through increases of 3% above inflation in the domestic regional rate while non-domestic rates will increase by inflation only. This will help to fund key public services.

In particular this Budget will:

• Provide an increase of 3.8 % for the Department of Health against comparable actual funding levels in 2018-19 which included in year monitoring allocations. While challenges still remain due to cost pressures increasing at a higher rate this will allow the department to preserve key services, prioritise patient safety and support HSC staff in providing the best possible care. The capital allocation for the Department of Health will also enable delivery of significant investment in health and social care facilities across Northern Ireland including the flagship Maternity and Children's Hospital and the Fire and Rescue Service regional training facility at Desertcreat. £100 million of funding from the financial annex to the Confidence and Supply Agreement will also be invested in Healthcare transformation and;

• Provide an increase of 1.1% for the Department of Education against the comparable actual funding in 2018-19 which included in year monitoring allocations. Although the pressures on school budgets are widely recognised, the funding of schools will continue to be prioritised in 2019-20. As a result of the £16.5million allocation for severe deprivation from the Confidence and Supply Agreement, there will be financial assistance towards meeting existing severe deprivation pressures in the areas of Sure Start, Nurture Units, Pathway Funding, Numeracy and Literacy and Extended Schools.

Two areas where new cross-cutting costs have arisen are in relation to exiting the EU and Pension employer costs.
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£20.4 million of additional funding has been allocated for EU exit costs which was provided as part of the £2billion from the UK Government to support departments and devolved administrations in either a deal or no deal scenario.

Also included in the Department of Justice's budget allocation is a further £16.5 million for the Police Service of Northern Ireland for EU Exit preparations in recognition of specific and unique circumstances in Northern Ireland.

Over £180 million has been included in departmental budget allocations for increased employer pension costs across the public sector. While this does not address the full level of pressures identified by departments it does represent a significant contribution towards them. Any remaining pressures will be reviewed in-year.

The financial constraints facing departments reinforces the need for departments and the wider public sector to work collaboratively to achieve outcomes for all. In a similar approach to 2018-19, this Budget also sets aside £4 million to assist departments in transforming how they deliver services.

Welcoming the Budget announcement, DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds, highlighted how the DUP helped shape it and urged Sinn Fein to end its unreasonable boycott so future budgets can be set in Stormont.

Mr Dodds said: "We welcome this budget which has good news for our schools and hospitals with increased spending on those frontline services.

"With £20m in 17/18 and £410m in 18/19, we are delighted to see the remaining rollout from our Confidence and Supply deal.

"The DUP has been able to shape this budget both through the further allocations from our £1 billion Confidence and Supply deal but also through another £140m to address immediate pressures such as waiting lists which we secured from Treasury. This is new money which would not have been allocated to Northern Ireland.

"Whilst SF complain about this budget they have abdicated their responsibility. It should be a local Minister setting it. Its time for SF to end their unreasonable boycott of Stormont. Whilst they boycott over Irish language legalisation, the DUP will get on with delivering through Westminster for schools, roads, hospitals and mental health services."

However, Alliance Finance spokesperson Stephen Farry, described the latest Budget as "a series of quick fixes used to plug holes in a sinking boat".

Dr Farry continued: "This is yet another stop-gap Budget delivered via the NIO in liaison with local civil servants. A series of quick fixes such as raiding capital budgets are used to plug holes in a sinking boat. But even with this dexterity there will be cuts flowing from these financial plans.

"But without Ministers who can take policy decisions and drive reforms, we will continue with an unsustainable spending pattern, with inefficiencies tolerated and public services eroding, and opportunities to improve our economy and society passed up.

"Northern Ireland's public finances are in a mess. We are a long way from a strategic multi-year budget linked to a Programme for Government and clear economic, social and environmental plans.

"Past periods of devolution has failed to deliver sufficient reforms including tackling the costs of managing a divided society. Yet, local shared Government remains the only viable means to govern this region. A restored but reformed Executive must be an imperative."

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