NI Budget: Wilson statement provokes angry exchanges

Sammy Wilson hit out at Ulster Unionist and SDLP criticism of the budget plan

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There have been angry exchanges at the Assembly following the finance minister's statement on the final budget.

Sammy Wilson revised his figures to provide millions in extra funding for health and other departments including education and employment and learning.

SDLP and UUP ministers are refusing to say if they will back the plan at the final assembly vote later this month.

Mr Wilson said their current opposition was for "cynical political purposes".

He told the Assembly that the budget had found an extra £450m for key services compared to the draft published before Christmas.

He said this amounted to a significant boost to key services and hit out at the UUP and SDLP for not backing the plan at an executive meeting on Thursday evening.

It is understood an extra £120m has been allocated to health over the next four years, and £150m extra to education.

The Employment and Learning department, which is responsible for higher education, is due to get an extra £50m.

Regional Development is getting an extra £107m but Social Development, which is run by SDLP minister Alex Attwood, is being cut by £70m.

In an apparent reference to the extra cash he has allocated to the Ulster Unionist-controlled departments of health and employment and learning, Mr Wilson told MLAs that "some ministers could simply not take yes for an answer."

Details of the minister's statement

  • A levy to be imposed on large out-of-town shopping developments to subsidise extra rates relief for small businesses.
  • The Department of Regional Development to actively pursue legislation to take £40m from Belfast Port in the last two years of the four-year budget period.
  • The modernisation of sports stadia will now take place over six years instead of four.
  • About £3m a year to go towards providing support for a childcare strategy which will reduce barriers to employment for parents.

And referring to the UUP's links with the Conservatives, Mr Wilson said those who advocated cuts to the NI block grant had complained the loudest about the settlement those cuts had produced.

UUP finance spokesperson David McNarry said the extra money was welcome "but it is still very worrying how he (Sammy Wilson) missed it in the first place".

The budget package will not be put to a formal vote until next week.

It is intended to save a cumulative £4bn by the end of 2014-15.

Some of the exchanges across the executive table on Thursday night were said to be "ill-tempered and brutally frank" and gave an idea of how the battle lines in the Assembly chamber will be drawn.

The finance minister said that the new £450m was available partly because the Land and Property Service has improved its efficiency in gathering the rates.

Senior executive sources claimed the new cash takes the total of additional revenue generated under the budget to more than £1bn.

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