Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland budget: DUP's Simon Hamilton plans cuts of up to £872m

Media captionNorthern Ireland Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has proposed cuts of up to £872m in his draft budget paper.

Northern Ireland Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has proposed cuts of up to £872m in his draft budget paper.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Department of Health and Social Services would get more money next year under the proposals.

The biggest losers would be the Departments of Culture, Arts and Leisure; Employment and Learning; and Environment.

Each is facing budget reductions of almost 13%.

Image caption Simon Hamilton said next year's budget is "the most challenging the executive has ever faced"

Employment Minister Stephen Farry said the impact of the proposed cut to his department would be "severe".

He said it would amount to a "four figure reduction" in places in each of the Northern Ireland universities under the current proposals and "many thousands of places being lost within further education".

Restricted

"It will seriously limit our ability to invest in skills, that is the key driver of the transformation of our economy," he added.

"We will see cuts in the number of university places, we will see reductions in terms of what we can offer through further education.

"That will mean restricted life opportunities for young people."

Mr Hamilton has said next year's budget is "the most challenging task this executive has ever faced".

He has suggested the Department of Health receives an additional £200m for front line services. However, other areas within the department's responsibilities, such as the Fire Service, would be subject to cuts.

Sinn Féin has said it will have further discussions on the budget paper circulated by the finance minister.


Analysis: Julian O'Neill, BBC NI business correspondent

The paper includes proposals to reduce the size of the public sector wage bill, through a voluntary redundancy scheme and "pay constraint".

Overall, the budget, if agreed by Sinn Féin, would see the health budget increase by 3% and the enterprise budget by 5%.

However, education would see a 1% cut.

On Monday, Mr Hamilton said he felt education should no longer be protected from cuts.


If next year's draft budget is not agreed by Friday, Stormont will lose out on a £100m loan from the Treasury.

Sinn Féin said the executive is facing "very difficult decisions".

A spokesman for the party said "the Tory cuts to public services" were an "ideologically driven assault on the welfare state" and were at the heart of the financial crisis the Northern Ireland Executive is facing.

However, despite the reduced funding, he said the party would continue to work to reach an agreement on a budget "which defends core public services, particularly health and education".

Questions

Earlier, Mr Hamilton said he believed the education budget could no longer be protected from cuts.

The education ministry is held by Sinn Féin, but ,so far, the party has given no indication it is prepared to accept the proposals contained in Mr Hamilton's paper.

Without agreement between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party the budget could not be passed.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said the job of resolving budget questions would be taken from the Stormont parties, unless they agree a draft budget by the end of the month.

Ms Villiers said that while there was some flexibility in the process of consultation, it was crucial the parties stuck to the timetable.

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