Extra Exchequer Funding

Finance and Personnel – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 25th September 2000.

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Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance 2:30 pm, 25th September 2000

7. asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel what plans have been made to distribute the extra funding that has recently been made available for Northern Ireland by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

(AQO 64/00)

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am currently drafting budget proposals to be presented to the Executive Committee very shortly. This draft budget will reflect the outcome of ongoing discussions with ministerial colleagues and the priorities developed by the Executive Committee in the Programme for Government.

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he assure us that the Assembly itself will be consulted on that spending? Will he also assure us that the Assembly will be kept up to date with whatever progress is made? Thirdly, will he tell the Assembly whether this extra funding will have any impact on the proposed privatisation of Belfast harbour, bearing in mind the delay of schemes because of disagreement on the way forward on that particular issue?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:45 pm, 25th September 2000

On the first point about keeping the Assembly informed, I will present a draft budget to the Assembly in mid- October, after the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have presented the Programme for Government. The Assembly and its Committees will then have to consider that draft budget. My Department has been in discussion with the Committee of Finance and Personnel, and others, to try to optimise the opportunity for the Assembly and its Committees to give proper and due consideration to the draft budget.

A vote needs to be taken on the draft budget, and we hope that it will be agreed by mid-December, so that all the secondary budget holders will know what they are getting and can plan accordingly. On the question about additional money, the Chancellor’s announcement indicated an increase in funding for Northern Ireland — a total of £2.1 billion for the next three years, covered by the spending review, including an additional £1 billion in the third year. I hope, however, that the Assembly’s interest, and that of the Executive, will not be confined to that notional extra money. We need to look at the total picture, the total spend and the total quality of that spend. That will certainly be the case in the context of the developing work on the Programme for Government.

With regard to Belfast harbour, nothing in the current spending plans, or in the estimates previously presented, is predicated on the sale of the harbour.

Photo of Sir John Gorman Sir John Gorman UUP

The questions down for answer by the Minister must be adhered to, and at the set time. As Mr Close and Mrs Bell were not here — and Mrs Bell is still not here, —I have to suspend the sitting until 3 o’clock, when Ms de Brún will answer questions on the Health Service.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it not possible to move to the next set of questions?

Photo of Sir John Gorman Sir John Gorman UUP

We have seen two instances where people have not appeared to ask their questions. This might be repeated if we depart from the rather formal time allocation of half an hour for each Minister to answer questions. To set such a precedent might be dangerous, so if the Member does not mind, we will suspend the sitting.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

On a point of order, Deputy Speaker. Is it reasonable to exclude Mr Close’s question, given that the Minister of Education was to answer questions first? Mr Close was, therefore, not entirely at fault for not being in the Chamber.

Photo of Sir John Gorman Sir John Gorman UUP

The Member will find that in the Order Paper, the Minister of Health follows the Minister of Finance.

The sitting was suspended at 2.48 pm.

On resuming—