Northern Ireland departments asked to identify cuts of 4-12%

image source, Reuters
image captionNorthern Ireland has effectively been without a devolved government since January

Northern Ireland's government departments have been asked to identify potential cuts of between 4% to 12% ahead of the next budget.

The Department of Finance has asked departments to outline what reductions to their revenue would look like if a 4%, 8%, or 12% cut was implemented.

Officials have said it is an "information-gathering exercise".

Any decisions will be made by a new Northern Ireland Executive or by direct rule ministers.

Northern Ireland has effectively been without a devolved government since January.

Its institutions collapsed amid a bitter row between the DUP and Sinn Féin about a botched green energy scheme.

Subsequent talks failed to reach an agreement.

Health exempt

Health and social welfare is exempt from the cuts scoping exercise, while some aspects of policing and education will be protected under the terms of the Fresh Start Agreement of November 2015.

The Department of Finance said the exercise will help to plan the revenue budgets up until 2019-2020, but that the capital budget is increasing in real terms and will be unaffected by the cuts scenarios.

A Department of Finance spokesperson said: "Under normal processes, at this time of the year NI Civil Service departments begin budget planning for the next financial year.

"The Department of Finance has commissioned an information-gathering exercise to collect the necessary data that will allow a future executive to make key, informed decisions on a budget for 2018-19 and beyond.

"This process is for information-gathering purposes only, covering a number of scenarios for non-protected areas. It will be for an incoming executive to make decisions about funding levels and final budgets.

"Similar to previous budgets, it is proposed to provide full protection from reductions for health and welfare reform with some protection for education and PSNI budgets."

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