Northern Ireland

Simon Hamilton: Northern Ireland budget 'rooted in tough choices'

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Media captionFinance Minister Simon Hamilton presented his draft budget on Monday

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has said Stormont's 2015/16 budget is "rooted in tough choices".

Mr Hamilton is presenting his draft budget to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The document was agreed by ministers on Thursday.

The grant Northern Ireland gets from Westminster has been cut by 1.6%. However some departments will have to make savings of up to 11%.

Health, the largest department, will get extra money.

Mr Hamilton said Northern Ireland faces a situation that "demands that tough, sometimes even undesirable, choices be made".

He said that will mean some departments having to cut services.

Mr Hamilton also warned that there will be at least another three years of cuts to follow.

He said that using UK-wide figures prepared by the Office of Budget Responsibility, day-to-day spending could be cut by a further 13% in real terms by 2019.

"This draft budget has been constructed in the most challenging financial circumstances to face any administration in the history of Northern Ireland," Mr Hamilton said.

"However, despite the multitude of challenges the executive faces, we have agreed a draft budget that prioritises what is important to the people of Northern Ireland.

"At the start of the budget process cuts of 15% were on the cards for the vast majority of departments.

"Instead, we have worked hard to stave off the worst. We have found imaginative ways to deal with our financial difficulties and still make significant allocations to priority areas."

He said his department was working on a "workforce restructuring plan" for the public sector.

"This will embrace all possible personnel interventions, including a recruitment freeze, suppressing vacancies, use of temporary staff, pay restraint and a voluntary mechanism to reduce workforce numbers," Mr Hamilton said.

He said he would bring detailed proposals to the executive in the next two weeks.

'Cobbled together'

Traditional Unionist Voice Jim Allister described it as a "cobbled together budget".

"The motivation is the shared DUP/Sinn Féin desire to cling to power. This is the glue which holds this dysfunctional executive together," he said.

"And, of course, the big issue of welfare reform, is simply dodged."

Only the DUP and Sinn Féin voted to support the draft budget on Thursday.

The Northern Ireland Executive will have to make significant savings, but the cuts to some Stormont departments will not be as deep as had been feared.

The executive is facing a £160m reduction in the amount of money it gets from the Treasury.

However, so-called inescapable pressures mean departments will have to find savings totalling more than £870m.

The Department of Health is protected in the budget - it will get an extra £200m.

The Department of Enterprise will also get an extra £30m, to fund job creation projects.

The biggest losers, the departments of culture, employment and environment, were all facing a cut of almost 13%.

However, it is now proposed they will face cuts of about 10 or 11%.

A technical change to the Department of Education's budget means it is understood to be facing a cut of almost 5%, compared to just 1% in early drafts of the budget, but the amount of cash it is losing is no bigger.

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