Assembly to debate draft budget proposal at Stormont

Image caption,
Peter Robinson, Sammy Wilson and Martin McGuinness announced the agreement on the draft budget on Tuesday night

The Northern Ireland Assembly is to debate a draft four-year budget on Wednesday, following late night talks at Stormont Castle.

Ministers spent hours discussing proposals by the First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on Tuesday night.

The Executive meeting followed a session of the Stormont budgetary review.

The full details of the draft will be presented to the Assembly later.

At a press conference on Tuesday night, First Minister Peter Robinson said: "This is the Northern Ireland Executive doing what it was elected to do, taking decisions no matter how hard on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland."

He said a four-year budget had been produced, with the Executive looking at ways of generating its own revenue, protecting frontline services and stimulating economic growth.

"The reason for our delay, I think, is the benefit for the people of Northern Ireland, in that we have produced a first class budget," he added.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "There were those who said this wasn't doable.

"There were those who said if it was to be done, it would be done for only a year, that we would evade our responsibilities, that we would prefer to go to the assembly elections next year on the basis of playing it safe.

"We've done none of those things."

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said agreeing the draft budget had been a "huge challenge".

"I think we have come through it with flying colours, because we have got a four-year budget," he said.

"We sought ideas from all of the ministers and all of the departments about how money could be saved, revenue raised, new innovative policies that could help to address the new situation we're in and not simply retrench into the expenditure patterns of the past."


SDLP Social Development Minister Alex Attwood abstained in the Executive vote on the draft budget.

On Wednesday, he said: "We support a budget going out for consultation, we support those elements that are good. There are other elements that clearly need further consideration.

"We weren't buying a t-shirt last night, we were making decisions to affect people's lives in a fundamental way for four years.

"That's why consultation now and and final decision later is the wise, informed and considered way to proceed."

It is understood the proposals to be discussed later include:

  • a pay freeze for civil servants earning more than £21,000
  • a tax on plastic bags
  • Belfast Harbour to be asked to contribute £125m to the Executive over four years from its cash reserves
  • an increase in the regional rate with the rise linked to inflation
  • local housing associations to be asked to contribute funding.
  • a hardship fund to help those hit by welfare benefit

BBC Political Editor Mark Devenport said it WAs highly likely the proposals would not be endorsed by all ministers.

He added: "The SDLP and the UUP are more likely to let the document go to consultation without giving it either a thumbs up or thumbs down."

Northern Ireland is the last devolved administration to agree on a budget.

Chancellor George Osbourne ordered Stormont to cut spending by £4bn over the next four years as part of the Spending Review announcement on 20 October.

However, the five-party coalition has yet to agree on how the savings will be made.

Scotland and Wales have already outlined their spending plans.

News online will be providing live coverage of the budget debate from 1145 GMT.

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