Finance Minister Arlene Foster MLA today told the Assembly, budget agreement was needed to keep delivering public services.
The Minister was speaking in the Assembly on the Supply Resolutions’ debate which is the first stage in the legal process to agree the Budget Bill.
Leading the Assembly debate the Minister said: “Today’s debate is about securing the cash and resources needed to provide key public services for everyone in Northern Ireland. Over £8.3 billion of cash and over £9 billion of resources is needed to deliver health services, education, jobs and other public services as well as the expenditure needed to pay benefits and pensions.
“This Budget Bill is predicated on the Executive’s already agreed 2015-16 Budget which requires all parties to honour commitments made in the Stormont House Agreement. Progressing this Bill ensures that our public services continue to be funded through this financial year.
“We will be able to allocate almost half of our budget to much needed health services. This includes some £3.8 billion of funding directly to our Health and Social Care Trusts and around £700 million on general medical and pharmaceutical services.
“We can deliver for our children and young people, allocating a quarter of our budget to schools, colleges, universities and other education services that will raise standards and help learners fulfil their full potential. We will provide more than £2.1 billion of funding to run our schools; almost £400 million of funding to support our universities and colleges and £266 million in student support.
“This budget will allow us to continue to build on the 9,410 jobs created by Invest NI last year and develop our economy through a focus on export-led growth.”
The Minister warned: “Failure to agree these spending plans would put the delivery of our public services at significant risk.”
Arlene Foster said: “The context to this Budget Bill is far from business as usual. We must deliver on our commitments to implement welfare reform to obtain the budget flexibilities secured as part of the Stormont House Agreement.”
The Minister went on to explain: “The current public expenditure position facing this Assembly has never been more difficult. In its 2015-16 Budget, the Executive has had to impose cuts to most Departmental budgets and with financial pressures mounting across a range of public services this has led to difficult decisions across the board.”
Arlene Foster said: “I would much rather have presided over a ‘give-away’ budget where the Executive had the luxury of deciding what new services to introduce, rather than what services to cut.
“However, we are in an environment of increasingly scarce resources and the immediate public expenditure outlook is not a positive one. The latest Office for Budget Responsibility projections for the UK as a whole suggests that further resource reductions are to come in the next few years with a 9% reduction in cash terms between now and the 2018-19 financial year. That said, the outlook for capital is much more positive with a projected increase, at a UK level, of 20% in cash terms over the same period.
“The Chancellor George Osborne announced his plans for a new UK Budget on 8 July and last week he set out immediate budget changes, resulting in £38 million of cuts to the Northern Ireland Block. I anticipate this will be the direction of travel for the UK government’s longer-term budget plans which will be revealed in their spending review in the autumn.”
In conclusion the Minister said: “While I’m determined to deliver the best deal for everyone in Northern Ireland and oppose cuts at every opportunity it is naive to think we can avoid a reduced budget. We must face up to the fact there is less money, a fact which many other governments across the globe have already faced up to.”
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