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Departmental Expenditure: Prioritisation

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance and Personnel – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Judith Cochrane Judith Cochrane Alliance 2:45 pm, 13th October 2015

2. Mrs Cochrane asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel what consideration has she given to implementing a regular cross-departmental review of high and low priorities for expenditure in order to reallocate money across Departments to meet higher priorities. (AQO 8868/11-16)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Such consideration is given during the in-year monitoring process when determining whether it is necessary to apply reductions to Departments' budgets to fund pressures in other areas. It will also form part of the deliberations in the upcoming Budget exercise.

Photo of Judith Cochrane Judith Cochrane Alliance

I thank the Minister for her answer. Does the Minister agree that it might bring some reality to some parties if demands for expenditure to do one thing had to be balanced by requisite cuts to something else, rather than just top-slicing across Departments perhaps, or, indeed, by having to consider increasing revenue?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

This is the argument and discussion that we have every time we have a monitoring round. If people are making bids for their Department, where does that money come from? Does it come from top-slicing other Departments, or do we reduce the allocation to other Departments?

Thus far, we have had those discussions and, obviously, we have used the Programme for Government to inform those discussions in and around our various priorities in that Programme for Government.

In the next Programme for Government, we will very much focus on outcomes and what is the best use of our resources to give us the outcomes that we desire for the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that all the parties will look to that outcomes-based process because I think that it will give us an even better outcome in the next Programme for Government round.

Photo of Adrian Cochrane-Watson Adrian Cochrane-Watson UUP

I thank the Minister for her answers. Bearing in mind that the June and October monitoring rounds are now not likely to be carried out until December, how can our Departments be expected to balance their books, particularly on capital expenditure?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I wrote to the Departments on 1 June this year, indicating that they should not engage in discretionary spend and should engage only in inescapable spend because I knew that we were going to face difficulties. That was before we passed the Budget (No. 2) Bill. Departments know that they have to live within their means, otherwise we will breach our control totals, and that is certainly not a position that we want to be in coming into the new year. Of course, this is all going on in the context of the talks and the fact that we need to have welfare reform sorted out and the flexibilities that were agreed in the Stormont House Agreement. I can only hope that we get that sorted out in the very near future.