Northern Ireland

Water charges ruled out in NI draft budget

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has said there are no plans for water charges over the next four years.

The pledge is part of a draft budget which Mr Wilson has presented to MLAs at Stormont.

He also confirmed that the regional rate, the portion of rates collected by Stormont, will increase by inflation in the same period.

There will be a 15p plastic bag levy while 12,000 civil servants face a two-year pay freeze.

The eight page document sets out the executive's spending plans for the next four years.

The freeze on the regional rate will now be lifted to allow it to increase by the rate of inflation.

Housing associations will be asked to contribute £80m of their assets over the next four years and Belfast Harbour Commission will face a multi-million pound levy.

Among the infrastructure projects which the minister said would go ahead are:

  • The new police and fire training centre
  • a radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin Hospital
  • Sports stadia projects
  • Upgrades to the water and sewerage network

The draft budget was completed on Tuesday night following hours of intensive discussion between ministers.

Mr Wilson told MLAs that setting a budget was a "litmus test" for the executive which he believed it was going to pass.

The budget has been described as "very disappointing" by the main public sector union Nipsa.

"Despite how the finance minister has tried to play it up, what this means for thousands of public sector servants is the prospect of losing their job or at the very best, having their pay cut," said Bumper Graham, the union's assistant general-secretary.

Northern Ireland is the last devolved region to formally agree a budget. The executive has to find cumulative savings of £4bn over four years following the Chancellor's Comprehensive Spending Review.

BBC NI business correspondent Kevin Magee said that that majority of the savings would come from cuts to government departments, other than health, which will see a marginal increase in its budget.

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