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Budget 2016-17

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:15 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP 5:15 pm, 19th January 2016

I thank the Member for his intervention. Of course, all of that will become apparent in due course. Maybe when you have been here longer, you will be able to find that out.

Moving on, I would like to make a few brief comments on the DARD budget, specifically two aspects of it. The Finance Minister knows my concerns about the proposed Ballykelly headquarters. The Budget document proposes that £10·4 million will be spent on it next year. Given the absence of any real business plan, I am still alarmed by that. Again, I urge the Minister to at least consider the vacant DVA office in Coleraine as a possibly cheaper option rather than blindly considering only Ballykelly. I also continue to have major reservations about the projected cost of the Northern Ireland food animal information system, which will receive £2·7 million next year.

I would now like to make a few comments on behalf of the Audit Committee. The Committee was briefed by the Audit Office in December on its resource requirement for 2016-17. There was a discussion about what further cost reduction could be achieved without compromising the Audit Office's ability to carry out its statutory and value for money functions. The Committee wrote to the Finance Minister to highlight the savings that the Audit Office delivers in its value for money work. The Committee had concerns that cuts to the Audit Office budget would limit that work and the work on good practice that it undertakes. The Committee, therefore, welcomes the Budget allocation of £7·9 million, which will ensure that the Audit Office can continue the important role that it undertakes in providing us with an independent audit assurance in relation to the use of public funds.

In conclusion, I would like to express my disappointment at the growing cost of administration in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Since the end of 2011, it has increased by £4·9 million, or 12%, to £45·2 million. Given the failure of the Department to honour Programme for Government commitments to reduce bureaucracy and red tape for farmers, I am sure that the industry will be more frustrated and disappointed by those spiralling costs.