November 26, 2022

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he had set a budget to bring the region’s public finances “under control”.

Outlining his spending plans in a written ministerial statement, Mr Heaton-Harris sent a clear message to Stormont parties – if they don’t agree to his budget, then restore the power-sharing executive.

Stormont institutions collapsed earlier this year when the DUP withdrew support as part of its protest against the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

Civil servants currently control government departments after ministers left office at the end of October when a deadline to restore the executive passed.

Departments have been operating without adequate budgets for months.

It has previously been warned that Stormont departments are on track to spend more than £660m in the current financial year.

Mr Heaton-Harris said his budget would protect health services, but warned the current trajectory of education spending would need to be reduced.

He also said fares set by public transport operator Translink would have to rise and that broad options for raising revenue would be considered.

He said the budget would increase public sector wages, but admitted it would not be as much as many workers would like.

“The fact that ministers who stayed in their posts for the six months from May to October 2022 have left NI’s public finances with a black hole of around £660m is hugely disappointing,” he said.

“I believe that if due care had been taken with Northern Ireland’s public finances over the past six months, the risk of overspending could have been eased and fully mitigated.

“However, we recognize that the public in Northern Ireland must be protected in the future by getting the public finances under control, so it is with significant regret that I am now setting a budget for Northern Ireland as the former executive failed to do so .

“I have a clear message to the parties – if they do not agree with my budget, they should restore the executive to consider and review the departmental position that I have set out.”

Stormont
The Stormont executive collapsed earlier this year (Liam McBurney/PA)

He continued: “For health, this Budget provides £7.28 billion in funding, an increase of £228 million on spending in 2021/2022, which included significant funding for Covid-19, or £786 million pounds if we compare with last year’s funding, excluding the. – stop the funding of Covid-19.

“This will protect spending to address critical health pressures in Northern Ireland.

“It also limits funding for abortion services, as ensuring the availability of services is a legal obligation for me as Secretary of State.

“For education, this budget provides funding of £2.6bn, which is £286m more than last year’s spending (after excluding the accounting for one-off Covid support in 2021/22).

“This will protect spending on programs such as free school meals, home-to-school transport, Extended Schools and Sure Start, all of which support those most in need.

“However, even this level of growth will require significant reductions in current levels of the spending trajectory to live within the overall limits of budgetary control.”

Concluding his budget statement, Mr Heaton-Harris said the need for action to put Northern Ireland’s public finances on a sustainable footing “can no longer be delayed”.

He said: “Steps must be taken now to address the systemic problems facing public services and to address the long-term sustainability of NI’s finances.

“I must repeat, I am only proposing this budget legislation because the parties in Northern Ireland have failed to demonstrate the necessary political leadership for which they were elected.”

He said the budget legislation would be presented in due course.

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