‘Draft budget reflects people’s priorities’ – Hamilton

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Monday, November 3rd, 2014
Community, Politics
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has said that the draft budget prioritises what is important to the people of Northern Ireland. Increases in health and support for education, policing and economic growth formed part of the draft budget delivered by the Finance Minister to the Northern Ireland Assembly today. The Minister said, “This draft budget has been constructed in the most challenging financial circumstances to face any administration in the history of Northern Ireland. “However, despite the multitude of challenges the Executive faces, we have agreed a draft budget that prioritises what is important to the people of Northern Ireland. At the start of the budget process cuts of 15% were on the cards for the vast majority of departments. Instead, we have worked hard to stave off the worst. “We have found imaginative ways to deal with our financial difficulties and still make significant allocations to priority areas. We have produced a balanced budget with no over-commitment. “We are building on the economic recovery by funding job creation, investing in infrastructure and creating a £1billion Investment Fund. We have focused on reform and restructuring of the public sector in readiness for the undoubted challenges that the years ahead will bring. “This draft budget deals with our difficult circumstances in a way that is right for Northern Ireland’s economy, for our public services, for our infrastructure and, most importantly, for our people.” The Minister announced the continuation of inflation only increases for domestic and non-domestic Regional Rates in 2015-16. He continued, “In my view, those who argue that the answer to our budgetary problems is simply to introduce water charges or hike rate bills are wrong and misguided. I am proud of the fact that Northern Ireland has the lowest household taxes in the whole of the United Kingdom. “The average household rate bill in Northern Ireland in 2013/14 was £812 compared to £1,322 in Scotland, £1,433 in England and £1,613 in Wales. I make no apology for keeping local taxes low – it is the right thing to do.” The Minister went on to confirm that the draft budget is predicated upon the continuation of a Small Business Rates Relief scheme offering £20million of support to thousands of Northern Ireland’s small businesses. “On the capital side the Executive will continue to borrow from the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative to stimulate capital investment. To help alleviate the significant pressures facing the Executive in 2014-15, the Chancellor agreed access to the National Reserve of up to £100million. “This must be repaid from the Executive’s 2015-16 budget. I have approached the Treasury seeking the flexibility to reclassify funding raised from the sale of capital assets to resource in order to alleviate the additional pressure this would place on the Executive’s resource funding.” Addressing the issue of welfare reform Simon Hamilton said, “The Executive has agreed to set aside £70million, in this draft budget, to fund a package of measures designed to mitigate the impact of welfare reform changes on the most vulnerable.” In light of the significant and well publicised pressures facing Health, an additional £200million allocation was agreed, equating to a real terms increase of 1.7%. Education was allocated £145million to provide it with an element of protection.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton

DOJ has received £29.5million of ring-fenced national security funding from HM Treasury and an additional £45million from the Executive in recognition of the pressures facing the PSNI. There is also a Capital DEL allocation for national security funding amounting to £1.5million. The Invest NI baseline, within DETI, which was previously reduced due to the economic downturn has been reinstated to the tune of £7.7million. A further £30million has been provided to DETI to ensure recent impressive record on job creation can continue. DRD received £20million for the reinstatement of the Budget 2011-15 decision on income to be generated from Belfast Port funding and £9.5 million for concessionary fares. The Minister set out his plans to establish an Investment Fund. Simon Hamilton said, “I am proposing to establish a Northern Ireland Investment Fund to support investment in local infrastructure. “This Fund may utilise some of the Financial Transactions Capital funding available to the Executive in 2015-16. It would also potentially allow large international investors, including the European Investment Bank, to invest in local projects that would usually be too small in scale to access this type of finance. Building on his public sector reform plans the Minister announced a £30million Change Fund. Announcing the Fund Simon Hamilton said, “Never has the need to renew, redesign, rethink, restructure and reform our government been clearer than in the financial circumstances we now find ourselves in. “What we face isn’t one year of serious budget pressures. This is the new landscape for the remainder of this decade and perhaps even beyond. He added, “This draft budget is about dealing competently and compassionately with the circumstances we are in. It is about facing up to reality, being prepared to compromise for the greater good and protecting and prioritising what really matters to the people of Northern Ireland.”
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