At the point when the Assembly dissolved in January, there had been no budget set for the Northern Ireland Executive for the 2017-18 financial year. As a result, since the end of March it has fallen to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance to allocate cash to Northern Ireland Departments under powers provided by section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Since that point, consistent with the UK Government’s ultimate responsibility for political stability in Northern Ireland, I have been working closely with the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), in conjunction with the NICS Board, to explore the most appropriate means by which to provide further assurance around the budget for Northern Ireland Departments in the absence of an executive.
I outline in the tables on the attachments, an indicative budget position and set of departmental allocations, based on advice from the Head of the NICS in conjunction with the NICS Board. These allocations seek to reflect, as far as possible, their assessment as to the priorities of the political parties prior to the dissolution of the Assembly and the further allocations they consider are required within the budget available. By so doing I intend to give clarity to Northern Ireland Departments as to the basis for departmental allocations in the absence of an executive, so that Permanent Secretaries can plan and prepare to take more detailed decisions in that light.
Alongside that, I wish to make it clear—as I shall also do in proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointments and Regional Rates) Bill—that this Government, if returned and efforts to secure the resumption of devolved Government do not succeed, would ultimately be prepared to provide legislative authority for the expenditure of Northern Ireland Departments for 2017-18.
The totals I set out would not constrain the future ability of an incoming Executive to adjust its priorities during the course of the year. Any future UK Government would similarly need to reflect upon the final shape of allocations in the light of the circumstances at the appropriate time.
Resource - Departmental Expenditure Limits
The resource positions begin from the indicative departmental totals set by the Permanent Secretary of the NI Department of Finance under his s59 powers. From there further allocations have been made in the light of the assessment made by the Head of the Civil Service, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Civil Service Board, as to pressures to be addressed. These totals do not include the £42 million of resource provided in the March Budget, as that extra funding was allocated after the last Executive dissolved. This is in order to maintain flexibility for the any new Executive to allocate resources to meet further priorities as they deem appropriate.
Capital - Departmental Expenditure Limits
The capital position has been determined by the Head of the NICS, in conjunction with the NICS Board, based on engagement with individual departments, again reflecting the decisions and priorities of the last Executive. It includes the allocation of £114 million of Financial Transactions Capital. It would make available funding for projects which were announced by the Executive as part of their 2016-17 Budget. These include the A5 and A6 road projects, the Belfast Transport Hub, and the Mother and Children’s Hospital. However it would be for individual departments to prioritise and allocate their capital budgets. As with the resource totals above, this does not include the £7 million of capital provided in the March Budget.
It can also be viewed, with the attachments, online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statements/Commons/2017-04-24/HCWS612/.