N. Ireland Politics

Stormont: Budget for next financial year passed in assembly

Stormont
Image caption The budget was presented by new Finance Minister Mervyn Storey

Northern Ireland Assembly members have voted to pass the budget for the next financial year.

The budget is £11.5bn, according to the budget document produced by the finance department.

It was passed by 62 votes to 30 on Tuesday evening.

The DUP and Sinn Féin voted in favour. The UUP, SDLP, Alliance, TUV, the Green Party, NI21's Basil McCrea, Independent Unionist John McCallister and Independent Claire Sugden opposed it.

Spending on benefits and pensions in Northern Ireland will be nearly £9bn, meaning that overall government expenditure is about £20bn.

The document says the taxes generated in Northern Ireland are "considerably less" than the level of funding received from the Treasury.

It says this shortfall, known as the fiscal deficit, was estimated to be more than £9bn in 2013-14.

Stormont has the power to borrow money under what is known as the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative, introduced in 2002.

The document says the level of outstanding debt in respect of these loans will be an estimated £2.1bn by the end of 2016-17.

Real term reductions

The document says this equates to £1,138 per head of the population.

Finance Minister Mervyn Storey told MLAs Stormont is facing significant real term reductions and it is impossible to do more with less.

The budget document is divided up according to the new nine departmental structure which will come into effect after the May Assembly election.

The budget includes increases for the new communities department, as well as health and justice.

By contrast, there are cuts for the department of agriculture, environment and rural affairs, the economy department and the executive office, which is the new title for the office of the first and deputy first ministers.

The document shows no percentage change in the education budget.

The new Stormont economy department is taking responsibility for higher education.

The section of the latest budget document dealing with the department is frank about the difficulties facing local universities.

It says: "Over the last number of years, a clear funding gap has emerged and widened between our own universities and those in other parts of these islands.

'Challenge'

"With tuition fees frozen and grant funding reducing, we have been overseeing a reduction in the unit funding provided per student.

"The challenge for Northern Ireland universities is to compete in a very competitive global higher education marketplace.

"If we cannot maintain competitive funding levels, the quality of provision in Northern Ireland will diminish in relation to other parts of the UK and we will end up with a second rate higher education system."

It was the first opportunity for the assembly as a whole to examine the document.