‘Difficult’ Northern Ireland draft budget open for consultation

Rebecca Black, PA
·3 min read

A “difficult” draft budget for Northern Ireland has opened for consultation.

It includes a £1.75 million capital allocation to deliver the A5 and A6 and a new mother and children’s hospital, as well as £538 million for the response to coronavirus.

There is also funding to enable work to start on Casement Park in west Belfast.

However Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy said he does not have enough funding following the spending review to deliver economic recovery.

“It is difficult and effectively a standstill of our 2020-21 budget position,” he said.

“With increased demands on public services and taking account of inflation, it will be a challenge merely to deliver existing services at their current levels.

“I recognise for most departments the draft budget outcome represents flat cash settlement, which will mean effective reductions once increased costs and demands on services are taken into account.

“Choices will have to be made, public services will have to be prioritised.”

Mr Murphy said Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has not confirmed a number of previously agreed financial packages worth £254.4 million in the 2021/22 financial year.

These include funding from the confidence and supply deal, city deals and New Decade, New Approach money.

Brandon Lewis
Brandon Lewis (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

He said this meant they could not be formally allocated as part of the draft budget.

“I hope that the Secretary of State will confirm these important funds in time for them to be incorporated into a final budget in the coming weeks,” he said.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government has provided unprecedented levels of funding to the Northern Ireland Executive this year. This included an additional £2 billion in funding through the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) financial package, £3 billion in additional funding to the Executive to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and £216 million as part of the Budget.

“The spending review for 21/22 provides a further increase in funding for the Executive by more than £900 million.”

Turning to the coronavirus response, Mr Murphy said pandemic continues to present challenges.

“Over £380 million is being provided for the health service response,” he said.

“We have prioritised the small amount of additional funding available to continue welfare reform mitigations, fund Agenda for Change pay, help pupils with special educational needs and to support low-income families through holiday hunger payments.”

He said capital spending will also involve infrastructure, including the schools estate as well as delivering the New Decade, New Approach priority to increase investment in social housing.

He also announced that the regional rate would be frozen.

“While the Executive has the option to increase revenue through the regional rates, we recognise the impact Covid-19 has had on households and businesses,” he said.

“This financial year we reduced business rates by 18% and froze domestic rates. Next year we intend to freeze the regional rates for both households and businesses.

“I would urge councils to play their part and do the same in respect of their district rates. I also intend to provide £150 million of additional business rates support in 2021-22.”

Responses to the draft budget can be made until February 25.