N. Ireland Politics

Finance minister says NI budget likely to fall by £2bn

Stormont

The Northern Ireland budget could be cut by more than £2bn over the next four years, the finance minister has warned.

Cutbacks would be "fairly massive" for some departments, Sammy Wilson said.

It follows First Minister Peter Robinson's warning that the cuts would be devastating for the economy.

Mr Wilson added that the Treasury would have no sympathy for the argument that NI is 'a basket case economy', deserving special treatment.

He said the current budget, which funds ongoing government programmes, would be cut by over £1.5bn, more than 10%.

The capital budget, which funds roads and buildings will be cut by more than 30% or £500m.

Speaking at Stormont, Mr Wilson said that the rate of cuts would not be the same across all Executive departments.

'Fairly messy'

The scale of the cutbacks will start to become clear when the Chancellor reveals the outcome of the UK wide spending review on 20 October.

The size of Northern Ireland's block grant will be revealed on the same day and Mr Wilson said he hoped to get a budget through the Assembly early in the new year.

He said things "could get fairly messy" as the fine detail of the spending plans are worked out by the Executive.

However, he warned against any "procrastination", saying front-line managers in the public services need to know their budget position well in advance of the start of the financial year.

He said it would be impossible to push back the budget until after May's Assembly election as such a timetable would mean making a year's worth of cuts in the last three months of the financial year.

Mr Wilson also revealed that only four ministers, all from the DUP, have so far presented their savings delivery plans to the Department of Finance.

He was critical of some unnamed Executive colleagues saying "some departments are ignoring the difficulties coming down the road."

He dismissed the idea that the Executive could engage in a negotiation with the Treasury, pointing out that Northern Ireland's grant is determined by the Barnett spending formula.

Earlier in September, Mr Robinson said ministers in Northern Ireland would have to make very difficult decisions.

He said the cuts would have a "devastating impact bogging Northern Ireland down in a recession for a prolonged period".

He urged ministers not to play politics with the decisions they will face.

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