The budget set by the executive does not in itself confer authority for Northern Ireland departments to spend or commit resources. That requires assembly agreement through the estimates process and the Budget Acts.
Departmental estimates containing one or more Requests for Resources (RfRs) are put to the assembly covering one financial year at a time. In turn many departments’ estimates also contain provision for cash and other resources to finance their arms length bodies through grants or loans.
Once agreed, the estimates become the expenditure limits voted by the assembly, set in the Budget Acts. These provide the legal authority for public expenditure within the ambit of each RfR. The ambit describes the activities on which expenditure is permitted by the RfR.
The annual expenditure which the assembly authorises in estimates is not calculated in quite the same way as multi year resource budgets. The estimates document contains supporting tables which, among other things, explain the reconciliation between the figures in the estimates, accounts and the budget.
Spring supplementary estimates
The Northern Ireland Spring Supplementary Estimates (SSEs) seek authority for additional resources and/or cash to that sought in the Main Estimates for the financial year. They may be presented:
- to seek authority, and additional resources and/or cash as necessary, for any new services
- to increase the provision for existing services
- to increase net resources because a shortfall is expected in accruing resources
- to increase accruing resources
- to draw attention to the diversion of funds already voted for one service, to another service within the same request for resources - this is done when the reallocation is substantial, likely to be controversial or involves a new service
Estimates publications, including the Main Estimates, Spring Supplementary Estimates and Vote on Account are available to download at the link below.