I beg to move
Accelerated passage of the Bill through the Assembly is needed in order to ensure Royal Assent before the end of March. That is necessary to obtain legal authority for the Departments and other public bodies to spend the cash and use the resources included in the Bill in 2015-16 and to ensure a smooth continuation of public services into 2016-17. Preparation of the detailed Estimates and the related Budget Bill under consideration today was a challenging undertaking, given the timetable involved. The Bill and the Estimates made must reflect the latest financial monitoring position, which concluded in January, yet the Bill requires Royal Assent prior to the end of this financial year. I am therefore grateful that the Committee for Finance and Personnel has confirmed, in line with Standing Order 42, that it is satisfied that there has been appropriate consultation with it on the public expenditure proposals contained in the Bill and that it is content that the Bill may proceed by accelerated passage. I welcome and appreciate the assistance of the Committee on the matter.
I shall now briefly outline the purpose of the legislation before us today and draw attention to the Bill's main provisions. The debate follows the Bill's First Stage yesterday, which followed the debate and approval of the two associated Supply resolutions. The Bill's purpose is to give legislative effect to the 2015-16 spring Supplementary Estimates and the 2016-17 Vote on Account. Copies of the Budget Bill and its explanatory and financial memorandum should have been made available to Members today. I do not intend to repeat the detail provided to Members at First Stage. In fact, Standing Order 32 stipulates that the debate should concern itself with the narrow content of the Bill, a point that I hope Members will remember during this evening's proceedings.
For the benefit of Members, and in accordance with Standing Order 32, I will summarise the main features of the Bill. Its purpose is to authorise the issue of £15,770,704,000 from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund in 2015-16. The amounts for each Department are detailed in schedule 1 to the Bill. That is £359 million more than was authorised in the June Main Estimates. That cash is drawn down on a daily basis, as needed, from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, which is managed by my Department on behalf of the Executive. The Bill also authorises the use of resources totalling £17,135,765,000 by Departments and certain other public bodies. That is some £389 million more than was authorised in the June Main Estimates. Those amounts are detailed by Department in schedule 2 to the Bill.
In addition, the Bill revises the 2015-16 limit on the amount of accruing resources that may be directed by DFP to be used by Departments. That limit includes operating and non-operating accruing resources — in other words, current and capital receipts — and amounts to £2,628,155,000. A breakdown by Department is shown in schedule 2 to the Bill. Under section 8 of the Government Resources and Accounts Act (Northern Ireland) 2001, a direction on the actual use of the accruing resources will be provided by way of a DFP minute, which will be laid before the Assembly in March following the Bill's Royal Assent.
Therefore, not only does the Bill authorise the use of resources but it authorises accruing resources, bringing the total resources for use by Departments and other public bodies to almost £19·8 billion. The amounts now requested for 2015-16 supersede the Vote on Account in the Budget Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, which was passed this time last year, and the Main Estimates provision in the Budget (No. 2) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, which was passed by the Assembly in June 2015.
The Bill also authorises the 2016-17 Vote on Account for cash of almost £7,899,052,000 and resources of £8,680,276,000. That is to allow cash and resources to flow to public services in the early months of 2016-17 until the Main Estimates and the related Budget Bill are approved in June this year. The cash and resources are to be appropriated and used for the services and purposes set out in column 1 of schedules 3 and 4.
Clause 5 authorises temporary borrowing by the Department of Finance and Personnel at a ceiling of £3,949,526,000 for 2016-17. That is a normal safeguard for any temporary deficiency arising in the Consolidated Fund. I stress that clause 5 does not provide for the issue of any additional cash out of the Consolidated Fund or convey any additional spending power. Instead, it enables my Department to run an efficient cash management regime.
Finally, the Budget Bill authorises the Public Prosecution Service to use an additional £6,032,000 in 2013-14, by way of an Excess Vote. This issue has arisen due to a fair employment tribunal ruling against the Public Prosecution Service on an equal pay and indirect discrimination case. The necessity to make provision for these costs at year end then breached the Public Prosecution Service annually managed expenditure budget for 2013-14. The Public Accounts Committee recommended that the Assembly provide the additional resources through an Excess Vote.
At this stage, there is little more that I can usefully add on the Budget Bill. I look forward to the debate and will endeavour to respond to as many issues raised by Members as possible.
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. As we have heard, the Budget Bill before us provides statutory authority for expenditure as set out in the spring Supplementary Estimates 2015-16. The Bill also includes the Vote on Account, which allows Departments to incur expenditure and use resources in the early part of 2016-17 until the Main Estimates are voted on by the House in June.
Standing Order 42(2) states that accelerated passage may be granted for a Budget Bill, provided that the Committee for Finance and Personnel is satisfied that it has been appropriately consulted on the public expenditure proposals in the Bill. At its meeting on 3 February, departmental officials briefed the Committee and answered questions on the Bill being debated today, including on issues relating to a range of Departments. In addition to that evidence, the Committee has scrutinised each of the monitoring rounds during the current financial year, which, in this case, took place in June and November 2015. In both instances, the Committee considered the overall outcome across Departments and the position for DFP as a Department. In view of this evidence-gathering exercise throughout the year, the Committee was content to grant accelerated passage to the Bill. I therefore wrote to the Speaker, informing him of the Committee's decision.
As I pointed out in yesterday's Supply resolution debate, the scale of the cumulative changes resulting from the normal reallocations through monitoring rounds, combined with the in-year technical changes, will, in some cases, have resulted in significant differences between the opening and closing resource and capital allocations of Departments.
As I have said, the Vote on Account is on the basis of the current structure of 12 Departments. However, the Main Estimates in June will reflect the new structure of the nine Departments agreed by the Executive. In this regard, the Committee noted that four Departments — DSD, DETI, DRD and DEL — will be allocated more resources under the Vote on Account than normal. This is to ensure allocations to cover their existing functions as well as the new functions that will be transferred when the restructuring takes full effect. This practice will, hopefully, minimise the financial risks as a result of the transfer of functions.
I have previously emphasised to DFP officials the importance of ensuring transparency in the restructuring process over the coming months in the budgets that will transfer along with functions.
Undoubtedly, the process will present challenges, but the Assembly and, in particular, the Committees in the new mandate will need to be provided with the information necessary to scrutinise the budgets associated with the transfer of functions as they occur.
There will also be a need for a clear and accessible reconciliation between the moneys allocated on the existing basis of 12 Departments, through the Vote on Account in this Bill, and those allocated on the new basis of nine Departments in the Main Estimates in June. In that regard, it will be important that the applicable statutory Committees engage with their respective Departments to ensure that the budgetary requirements of transferring functions have been identified and settled as applicable. Furthermore, at the meeting on 13 January, DFP officials pointed out to the Committee that Ministers would be given significant discretion in the June monitoring round to reallocate resource and capital budgets and:
"to take on board the representations that are made, for example, from the various Committees."
Therefore, this is an opportunity that the outgoing Committees may wish to pick up on in their legacy reports to the successor Committees in the new mandate.
I am hopeful that we will also see improvements to the overall Budget process in the next mandate. As I have reminded Members already, a solution to some of the difficulties and flaws in the current process could be found by the Assembly and Executive agreeing a memorandum of understanding on the Budget process. I have written to the Minister recently to reflect on the progress made in developing the MOU, and I am hopeful that the Department will work with the new Committee for Finance to see this brought to fruition. It would establish a framework for improved cooperation between the Executive and the Assembly in respect of budgetary matters and facilitate Members and Committees in fulfilling their scrutiny and advice functions, which, in turn, will assist in overseeing the effective and efficient delivery of the Executive's strategic priorities. Importantly, the MOU would help to front-end the Assembly's input to draft Budgets and afford scope to influence key issues in advance of future Budgets being agreed by the Executive. That in turn could provide scope to rationalise and streamline the latter stages of the financial process, in particular the duplication of effort that we face between yesterday’s Supply resolutions debate, today’s Second Stage debate and the subsequent stages of the Budget Bill. Given the need for greater oversight and closer scrutiny of our public expenditure, coupled with the recurring difficulties experienced by Committees in the time and information available for meaningful scrutiny of budgets, an agreed memorandum of understanding between the Assembly and the Executive is essential going forward.
On behalf of the Committee, I support the motion. I will now make a few comments as an individual Member and on behalf of Sinn Féin.
Recently, I went round local businesses. It is important to put some of the issues in a local context, because moneys in the Budget are used for rate relief. I welcome the work of the Department in consulting on the rate reliefs currently in place. There is certainly a need to put in place new reliefs and perhaps remove some of the old ones. I went door to door around businesses in Ballymena to discuss rates. The main issue that was raised was not rates; it was the roadworks on the main streets through Ballymena. We would make the suggestion — it was raised with me by my local councillor, Paul Maguire — that we introduce what they have in Wales for when there is flooding or serious roadworks. I do not know exactly how that is measured, but it is something that the Department should look at. Businesses showed us their turnover figures, and there is a clear correlation between major works in the town and a reduction in profits. Those businesses were under pressure as a result of the works carried out in the town.
I thank the Member for giving way and apologise to other Members that this may become a bit of a discussion about what is going on in Ballymena. I listened to what the Member said. However, I spoke to traders when I was in the town on Saturday, and some told me that, as a result of the rally on Saturday, their business was down — in some cases by a third. There are always challenges for our businesses for a variety of reasons. However, as the former Minister for Social Development, I still believe that the investment of £4 million in the public realm works in the centre of Ballymena is vital. There are issues with how that is managed. When I was Minister for Social Development, I came very close to suspending the contract because I was not content with the way in which some elements of it were being progressed. However, we always have to strike a balance between how we deliver and ensuring that that is done in a way that does not have a negative impact on the continuance of a business. I would be interested to hear the examples from Wales.
I thank the Minister for his intervention, and he is right: it is about getting the balance right. The end product of the works being carried out will no doubt be very beneficial to those businesses, but there is a transition period. Also, changes in the market and in the economy in the past five years mean that it is sometimes hard to distinguish whether this is a result of the economic downturn or the work taking place. It is worth looking in greater detail at the effect of works being carried out in a town over a prolonged period. The Committee and individual parties have looked at the small business rate relief, and there is a view that it does not have that great an effect. However, we believe that it should stay in place until we find something more targeted. Perhaps this is one example of businesses struggling to make a profit being affected by an outside factor. The Department should look at it in greater detail.
Other issues were raised. I know one businessperson in Ballycastle — we passed this to the Department as part of the consultation response — who believed that he was doing the right thing by filling out the survey on turnover figures and matters relating to his business and returning it to Land and Property Services (LPS). However, the response rate to those surveys was only something like 50%. He felt that it was unfair that rates estimates, which increased by a few hundred per cent in his case, were based on the figures that he had provided, whereas the rates for businesses that did not provide figures were based on some other formula that was perhaps not as precise as the one used for his. Brian McClure took that point on board in our meeting in Ballymena. Perhaps it should be made mandatory. If the Department or LPS are to survey businesses for their figures, all businesses should return the survey or none, rather than having a situation that appears unfair to certain businesses.
Increasingly I believe that there is an appetite among the business community and the local economy for the Assembly and the Executive to take hold of further fiscal levers. Outlined in the Budget Bill are figures relating to the powers that we have on revenues and spend. Of course, across the water, they have had Smith, Calman and Silk; there have been so many reports about adding to the suite of fiscal levers that the Scottish and Welsh Administrations have. We have not had that here in Belfast. We need to look at that again for the new Assembly for the next five years. We have made significant progress on corporation tax and should look at income tax as another possible example. I have also been highlighting air passenger duty for a considerable period. I welcome the progress that the Executive have made on the air connectivity fund. I look forward to seeing how the ETI Minister progresses that in the weeks ahead. The more you learn about such matters, the more likely it is that politicians around the table will seek their devolution. The new Executive will finally have to come to grips with it in relation to further powers.
The JTI and Michelin sites in Ballymena must be an Executive priority. Invest NI is getting significant funds in the Budget. As I said yesterday, a strategy that goes beyond Belfast is needed for rural towns such as Ballymena. There is certainly a sense that more could be done. Do not get me wrong: Invest NI has secured significant investment. Even this week, we have seen significant job creation in Belfast and elsewhere, and that needs to continue. However, the new Executive and the new Department for the Economy — I certainly welcome the fact that the Executive have taken the decision to have an economy-based Department — need to get to grips with the focused problems in Ballymena. We have two excellent sites and an excellent manufacturing skills base. Manufacturing benefited many families in north Antrim; it benefited my family over 20 to 30 years. We all realise the value of manufacturing jobs, and we need to ensure that those jobs are recreated.
There are always global factors such as the slowdown in the Chinese economy and oil prices. Our skills base trumps some of the lower-wage economies that some companies feel are more attractive. We need to sell that skills base more effectively on the international stage. Some SMEs and indigenous companies have been taken over by larger international companies, and, in some cases, that is welcome. Invest NI has ensured that Wrightbus received significant support in recent years. We have secured big contracts from San Francisco through to the London buses. There are a lot of successes, but we can always do better. We can sell ourselves better. When we have that skills base, there is absolutely no reason why we should not go out there with confidence to sell the skills base in Ballymena and our manufacturing tradition in that part of County Antrim.
I thank the Member for giving way. When Invest goes out across the world to sell Northern Ireland, a big issue is ensuring that it has a suite of products for potential customers. Corporation tax will play an important role in that. Some of the comments made by some of the Member's colleagues on the issue raise a concern about their commitment. Given the issues that he rightly raises about the sites in Ballymena, does the Member agree that part of the overall suite in selling is the date and the rate that we have now secured for corporation tax? When we visit the United States in March, every effort must be made to ensure that that is a key component of the sell for Northern Ireland.
Absolutely. I agree with the Minister. The deputy First Minister and others, including my party colleague Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, have greatly trumpeted the benefits of getting the corporation tax rate correct and selling it to the United States and to the many economies that we are looking inward investment from. However, I have to say — I said this yesterday — that we need to get it right by having a fair deal from Westminster. If we are to reduce the corporation tax rate, we need to ensure that Westminster gives us a fair deal. Scotland has raised the issue of getting a fair deal, and I use the party opposite's slogan extensively these days about getting a fair deal, but it is absolutely right because we need to ensure that we get the rate of corporation tax right and that we are not short-changed by Westminster, especially the Treasury.
The Treasury is a secretive organisation that gives us some quite woolly figures about the revenues that come out of this part of the world. That needs to be a priority. There needs to be more transparency from the Treasury, and I think that the new Executive need to ensure that we take a magnifying glass to the revenue figures that come out of Belfast and the North and to ensure that Treasury is providing us with the full detail. The centralised nature of the Treasury has caused great frustration amongst all the devolved Assemblies — here, in Wales and in Scotland — and I think that we need to strengthen our challenge function. Certainly, the Finance Committee has not been found wanting in exploring that and looking at matters such as the Barnett formula, but I believe that is something that the Executive and the new selection of Ministers need to prioritise.
I am very conscious that we are in for another late night, so I look forward to the debate, and I support the motion.
I will try to be reasonably brief as well, as I know that people like to check in with their families a couple of times a week.
We outlined some of the concerns that we have at the first stage of the Budget and during the debate on the spring Estimates yesterday. I think it is worth pointing out that a symptom of the failures in the process, as I referred to yesterday, is that we have had two debates on the Budget in a couple of weeks but, at the same time, have had very little time for the Ministers to bring forward their estimates and there has been very little scrutiny of those estimates.
In response to my point about that flaw yesterday, Minister, you pointed out that this is a one-year Budget to reflect the stretching of the mandate, but we do not think that that negates the overarching need to reform the budgetary process. In the Opposition Bill, we suggested a budgetary Committee, which was, inexplicably, opposed.
Suffice to say, we are not confident that this Budget has either the imagination or the detail to respond to the very many challenges that we have here, including rebuilding the economy and giving confidence to investors, not just through a cut in corporation tax, and giving confidence to young people to stay. I am glad that the Member for North Antrim is also looking across to Scotland for ideas, but I am afraid that I do not see very many of them reflected in this Budget. I peek over the pond quite often to see how Scotland is using devolution to its best advantage, and it makes my heart sink a wee bit when I see the fiscal opportunities over there and the missed opportunities for using devolution here.
We do not think that the spirit of power-sharing and of possibility that gets and has got Northern Ireland through bigger problems than a few Budgets is evident in this Budget. We do not think that there is, as I said, the required level of accountability. In what other Parliament would one scrutiny session per Committee be justified for a Budget of £16 billion? I highlighted particularly the deficit in the scrutiny of the Education portion of the Budget in that regard.
Respectfully, I think that the response to our criticism has mainly been to deflect and talk about the lack of alternatives provided by the other parties, but without the detail, all we are able to look at are the bulges and the contractions in the numbers. We are not really able to fairly scrutinise the priorities and set out alternatives, and I am not sure whether that is done intentionally.
The life story of the Budget began with the disagreement over welfare and the failure, we think, to engage with reasonable proposals; you would not have agreed with all of them, but there was a failure to even engage with them. There was also the rejection of the ideas of other parties during the talks process, and then there was the presentation of the Fresh Start Agreement to parties like ours about half an hour before it was published. This Budget then followed. As I said, it is not about opposition to the money going to the various Departments. There is a lot of talk about mandates and the size and use of mandates, but it wipes out and ignores the mandates of all of the other parties.
I am not suggesting that you are running out of steam, my fellow colleague from South Belfast. Last night, you were good enough and bold enough to give us examples of things that the SDLP would do. Now that we are debating the Budget, I think that, despite the special and, perhaps, rushed, circumstances, it would be helpful if you were to give us an opportunity to see some of the alternative ideas that the SDLP has about spending.
I will. I pointed out some last night, and colleagues will point them out. As I said, we are not opposed, but if you would be more specific and tell us exactly what you are spending the money on, as other Parliaments and Houses do, it would be easier to set out the alternatives. What are the big ideas? If you can tell me what the big, creative ideas in the Budget are, and provide the detail of those, it will allow us to more effectively scrutinise them. The fact is that you are giving us figures like £1·9 billion, without the detail. How can we set out the alternative without knowing what your alternative is and what exactly you are going to do with that money.
I want to pick up, briefly, a couple of the points that I raised yesterday, and which you responded to, Minister, in winding up the debate. We are still not sure about the £5 million added and the £10 million off skills. You also mentioned a potential £20 million in the June monitoring round. We still do not understand why there is all of that shuffling about. If that money is for anything other than departmental use and getting used to the changes in Departments, why is it not being allocated now?
I also raised the increased funding for the Strategic Investment Board and was told that £2·5 million of it was for Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) and the Urban Villages project. In the absence of further detail, I took to Google, this afternoon, and learned that:
"SIB are creating an Urban Village team that will support OFMDFM and DSD in the development of the Urban Villages ... enabling early momentum projects and identifying projects for capital investment".
I am open to correction, but that sounds a lot like administration, coming in an OFMDFM budget which, as we know, is quite administration-heavy; the administration budget of which, as I pointed out yesterday, has gone up, year on year. Yesterday, I also pointed out a better use for that money. Some £880,000 could support the women's centre childcare fund. Adequate childcare would unlock a lot of possibilities for families, women and working people. As I pointed out yesterday, Scotland, and even the Conservative Party in London, are providing a lot better for working families in that respect.
We also expressed our dismay about the decision to spend more on redundancies and the failure to create conditions for creating jobs, as well as the failure to give security of funding on flagship projects like the A5 and the A6 and an explanation as to how those projects are going to be funded during their lifetime. I will defer. My colleagues will outline those specific projects, and I guarantee that they will be clearer than I am on the locational differences between Crawfordsburn and Castledawson in relation to that project.
I will come in, anyway. Thank you very much, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker. I am genuinely perplexed, because the Member has said why she is opposed to the Budget, but she has not set out any detail whatsoever. It is as if she is saying, "You show me yours, and I'll show you mine", but she has given us no detail of anything that she would do differently. Give us something; tell us what it is.
That is exactly the point. The House's job is to scrutinise the Budget. My point is that you have given us almost nothing to scrutinise. You have rushed this through. We appreciate that there were reasons for the rushing through. I gave the potted, disappointing life story of the Budget, but, in many cases, there has been one Committee session for each Department. I have referred to the allocation for Education and the total lack of scrutiny. We are not able to scrutinise the priorities that you are setting out, because you have not set them out. Despite the ideas that parties will set out in their manifestos, they will not present an alternative because you basically have not given us your opening gambit on it. That is the point. I have finished.
I hope that I can get a few laughs tonight, but I am not so sure. Again, I am pleased to be able to speak on the Second Stage of the Budget Bill. It is funny; we all seem to set off by putting out the main parameters. I noticed that the Minister did it and the Chair did it, and I see that I am doing it now as well. I will stick to convention.
The Bill covers the 2015-16 financial year and provides legal authority to spend for the early part of 2016-17. The Main Estimates will not be considered until June, but it remains crucial that Committees continue to monitor the spending of their respective Departments so that underspends are minimised and the return of funds to the Treasury is avoided.
We are told that the 2016-17 Budget is predicated on the full drawdown of available reinvestment and reform initiative (RRI) borrowing. I understand the logic of capital projects which support economic growth, but in the same paragraph of the Budget, reference is made to the Executive's considering mechanisms for capping RRI borrowing. I am just wondering whether the Minister can develop that thinking so that the apparent contradiction may be explained. There is a figure of £8 million to be held centrally for distribution as a result of the joint investment with Atlantic Philanthropies. In 2014, £58 million was agreed. Can the Minister advise what balance of the fund is as yet unspent?
The Stormont House Agreement has provided for up to £350 million of additional borrowing to support important capital investment projects. Again, for clarification, will the Minister confirm that the first £100 million was used in the year 2015-16? What is envisaged for the £100 million in 2016-17? It would be interesting to know whether there is a strategy in place to cover that additional borrowing.
I will turn to European funds. I know that we can expect income from the various European programmes which are at closure stage. Do we know how much that is likely to be, and is the sum included in the Budget detail? If not, is it available for allocation? The change fund figure is reduced to £7·1 million and includes £1·5 million for estate rationalisation. How much resource has been released from the sale of assets, and how will these have been dealt with in the Budget?
I have to say that I am pleased to see that manufacturing rates will continue to apply a 30% liability for the next year. If we are serious about developing the economy, we need to support our manufacturers in a tangible way. It is also important to extend the small business rate relief scheme, the empty shops concession and the rural ATM exemptions for a further period. However, there are still issues with the recent non-domestic rate review. Is the Minister in a position to update us on the current situation? I know that, for many, there is concern from businesses and indeed clubs right across the Province. The Chair referred to that as well.
Much hope appears to be placed on the June monitoring round to make easement changes and redistribute resources. June is a long way off, but I ask the Minister what assurance he has, if any, that significant resources will be there as a result of the year-end movements, Barnett consequentials and underspends.
To finish, corporation tax has been touched on. Indeed, it was touched on last night as well. I remember speaking about it a month ago. It is very important that we publicise that availability because, as the Minister said last night, there is a gestation period for new businesses setting up and moving on to another country, so we need to get that message out now. I see some reference to the promotion of corporation tax. Maybe that sort of promotion is included in that, but we need to do that.
Air passenger duty (APD) is certainly a punitive tax. It started off as a green tax, but that is no longer the case. Several countries in Europe have just scrubbed APD because it worked directly against their interests. I certainly support that idea.
This evening, again, we have had the call to look at the devolution of further taxes. I hear that every so often, but in the Budget report we have a reference to the taxes that are generated in Northern Ireland and how they weigh against what comes from the Westminster Treasury.
I think that I trotted this one out about a month ago: the fiscal deficit is £9·2 billion. It says here that taxes generated in Northern Ireland are considerably less than that. I do not know whether it is fair to ask the Minister whether we have any idea of how close it is to that, but my feeling is that it is light years away from £9·2 billion. I will leave it at that.
Given that we have had quite a few debates on the Budget, we will probably hear a lot of repetition of what people either like or dislike about it. Indeed, some will maybe take credit for things that they oppose in the Budget and, when writing their manifestos, they will try to take credit for them. Nonetheless, time will tell.
So far, we have heard from the SDLP, which has expressed nothing other than negativity about the Budget. We have heard that the party is against it because of the lack of scrutiny. That is fair enough. My colleague said that he is perplexed, and we are all perplexed, that, so far, we have not heard any real alternatives as to how the SDLP would do the Budget any better. All we hear are sound bites. I believe that it is time that the SDLP, which reminds us —
Will you take a point of clarification? Is the Member saying that it is fair enough that the allegation was made that there was a lack of scrutiny or that it is fair enough and that there is not a lack of scrutiny?
I am saying that it is fair enough for the SDLP to believe and state that that is why it believes that this is a bad Budget. No one is even suggesting that not having a longer period to scrutinise Budgets is the best way forward. The reality is that we are debating the Budget today, and there is no point in a party, just because it wants to be seen to be opposing the Budget, whining that it has not had the opportunity to properly scrutinise it. It really is time for the SDLP to either put up or shut up on those matters.
I have a number of issues from a constituency perspective. Whilst I have mentioned some of them in previous debates, it is important to again put on record the £130 million that the Budget provides for the Minister for Regional Development to deliver the Randalstown to Castledawson dualling. That project is long overdue. Whilst there are some difficulties with land — and I know that work is ongoing in dealing with the landowners — it is, all in all, a long overdue project, and hopefully it will deal with the large volume of traffic that travels that way on a daily basis, especially in the morning. For many years, the residents who live along that road have had difficulties. Whilst other Members and colleagues of mine will demand that the rest of the road up to Dungiven is delivered, I think that the announcement made is very good and very welcome. That is on top of the around £35 million that was allocated previously for the Magherafelt bypass, the work on which is ongoing. These are certainly good news stories for my constituency.
Yesterday, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party continued on his hobby horse of attacking the social investment fund. I was delighted that the Minister was able to outline that £58 million had been committed for social investment fund projects. A total of £1·4 million of that is in my constituency, and has been committed, and I have spoken to those who are working through the process and are trying, at this stage, to get contractors put in place. Anyone whom I have spoken to about this has said that this is a good news story and that they are certainly glad to see it coming.
I certainly will not take the negativity from Mr Nesbitt about the social investment fund, and I have no apology to make for ensuring that, when it was being discussed, I made representations to the First Minister. I am glad that the Executive have agreed to widen it. This is a good news story not just for my constituency but for the whole of Northern Ireland. Those who continually snipe from the sidelines should remember the impact that it will have on our communities.
The Department of Education's minor works project has been a good scheme to allow schools to benefit from minor capital works funding. In my constituency, a number of schools have benefited, so I hope that that funding will continue. Mind you, I have a list of schools that probably need new builds. I had the Chair of the Education Committee in my constituency recently to see some of the needs. I hope that more capital money is put into the education budget.
With corporation tax, it is great to see that the Chair of the Finance and Personnel Committee is now coming over to this way of thinking and referring to the fair deal. I said to one of my colleagues that he could change his name back to David and maybe join, but we will maybe not go that far.
Nonetheless, it is a good news story for Northern Ireland. As APS to the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, I know full well the efforts that have been put into delivering corporation tax and the debates on trying to get a date and set the rate. Many are calling it a game-changer, but what we have in reality are the levers for Invest NI to travel across the world selling Northern Ireland as a place that is open for business.
Those who oppose the Budget will, no doubt, take credit for being part of an Executive that have delivered those financial levers. I, for one, make no apology for supporting the Budget. The Minister has done an excellent job in the short time that he has been in post to bring forward the Budget — as did his predecessor. This is a good Budget and something that the House should support.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Budget Bill. I will endeavour not to do the parrot impression that I did last night and cover the points that everybody else had covered.
Members will be aware that the Alliance Party opposed the Budget at the Executive and when the Budget resolution came before the Assembly in January. That was the time when there was still an opportunity for an alternative to be agreed. However, now that these democratic decisions have been taken for better or worse, we have a duty to support the measures to put in place the finance for our Departments and public agencies.
We recognise that 2016-17 is a transitional year and is to be followed by a four-year Budget. Therefore, I still have some hope that, when the rationalised Departments are in place and a new Programme for Government agreed, we will see a more strategic approach. No more circulating a Budget the night before an Executive meeting with the two largest parties displaying a disregard for the views of other parties represented on the Executive but a properly consulted-on Budget that effectively aligns with the strategic priorities for all our Departments across the period to 2021.
Whilst I still have hope, it does not mean that we should simply brush over the 2016-17 proposals that, I believe, missed the opportunity to begin to lay any groundwork for the radical reform needed to deliver better outcomes for everyone in Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister how the proposed spending in front of us will begin that process of making our public finances more sustainable? Perhaps I missed it.
Does he believe that the Budget will assist in reforming the health sector? Will it ensure that necessary action is taken on education? Will it feed into addressing the cost of a divided society and investing in the economy?
Looking at the Department of Health. Yes, the 2016-17 Budget, compared with that for 2015-16, has allocated an extra £128 million, and, of course, that is welcome news. However, even with that increase, the cost pressures facing the Department are extremely worrying. Our population is increasing in size and getting older, and more people are living with chronic conditions. Unhealthy lifestyles are creating more demand for services, and new developments in medical technologies and drugs are increasing demand and adding to the cost pressures. The focus of the Department of Health therefore needs to be on reform, not simply on using the resources to cover gaps here and there by way of a sticking-plaster approach. We need to rationalise the way in which services are provided and invest in further prevention measures.
I appreciate the Member giving way. It is easy for Members to come to the House and use general phrases, but when the Member uses a phrase such as "rationalise services", which I have heard other Members use and no doubt will hear other Members repeat later, that is the same as saying that we need more tax-raising powers. Does that mean that we are going to support water charges? Does the Member mean that she can identify those locations where health provision is currently but that will have to close? That is the issue for us all, given the debate that there has been this week about the Manchester experience. Can the Member be specific about what is meant by "rationalisation of services"?
I thank the Minister for his intervention. I was going to come to that in my speech. Of course, I am not the expert who can tell you exactly what needs to be there, but I do know that an independent panel has been put in place, and I believe that there needs to be serious public political commitment to see through changes that may be brought forward by that panel. We cannot expect people to come forward with ideas and then respond with, "Not on my doorstep". We have seen that so many times before. I am calling for that political leadership from all parties, and I welcome the Health Minister's apparent commitment to reform and the fact that he has put a panel in place. I am just hoping that any necessary changes that are proposed by the panel will be realised.
On a previous occasion in the Chamber, I think that there was a mention of a transformation fund for some of the cost-saving initiatives that may come about. I ask the Finance Minister to confirm that he will be supportive of that type of investment being prioritised. I hope that there will be a focus on using improved IT solutions, as communication in the health sector really seems to be one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest wastes of resources. Just yesterday, I had to make three separate phone calls to secondary care providers to find out one simple piece of information about an arm injury that I have. I was eventually told to phone my GP, who would be able to access the records and provide the information. That bounced the responsibility back to primary care, which is already under pressure. It is clear that there are processes crying out for reform in our health sector, so it is not just about closing services in different places. It is about really, really reforming those processes.
Even through high-level benchmarking of costs compared with other jurisdictions, we can see that efficiencies need to be made in education, yet the large degree of protection that has again been given to the Department of Education seems to create less incentive for that reform. The Alliance Party of course supports investing more resources directly in schools, but we believe that that can be achieved by better use of the Department's budget in the first place.
More money is already spent on education in Northern Ireland than in neighbouring jurisdictions, but less money is being invested directly in the pupils. Part of that is due to our divided system, and another part of it is to do with our high administrative costs. We therefore also need a more meaningful approach to area planning to reduce the number of empty desks and leadership — again, from all our political parties — so that, when difficult decisions have to be made about mergers, amalgamations or closures, people face up to them, are honest with the public and say, "This is what needs to be done". However, I welcome the budgetary allocation for capital expenditure, which Mr McCrea also mentioned. I am hopeful that, in this incoming year, capital resources will finally be allocated to Strandtown Primary School in my constituency of East Belfast for the badly needed modernisation of the accommodation.
I would like to make some comments on the budgetary allocation for economic development. We know that the new Department for the Economy will be established in this incoming financial year. That is good news, as it will bring together the further and higher education sectors alongside our business community and should help to strengthen the economy and drive it forward. However, Alliance has concerns that the 2016-17 Budget has prioritised Health and Education at the expense of the economy. It is a fact that we have disinvested in higher education for a number of years. The cynic in me might say that that is because it fell under an Alliance portfolio. Nevertheless, it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Reskilling and upskilling our people is essential to give everyone the opportunity to realise their full potential and to make a valuable contribution to society. It is one of the challenges that our Budget really needs to focus on and properly address if we want people to be ready for the devolution of corporation tax. If we need more resources in that area, perhaps we should reconsider the total allocation under the Delivering Social Change banner. That funding is being maintained as per previous allocations, but I am not confident on delivery given the previous failings of the social investment fund, which I know some have referred to as the "pet projects fund".
I apologise if I have come across as completely negative this evening; I genuinely have tried not to. Alliance will accept the democratic process that has agreed this Budget but, going forward, I urge the Minister to enter into full consultation and discussion on meaningful reforms, including considering some revenue-raising such as prescription charges, which could be taken forward quite quickly, and exploring some other medium-term options as well. I also ask him to include a commitment to publish the independent audit of the cost of division that was part of the Stormont House Agreement.
Our Budget process is difficult as we continue to live in difficult times for public services. Responsible leadership is therefore needed, and that means being honest with the public and taking the difficult strategic decisions that will ensure the best outcomes for Northern Ireland as a whole. We support the passage of the Bill.
I will be speaking as Chair of the Education Committee, so obviously it would be totally wrong and remiss of me to mention that, in terms of any budgetary allocations particularly to Education, priority should be given to the Holywood schools project in my constituency, which would impact on Priory College, Holywood Primary School and Holywood Nursery School. It would be equally remiss of me to indicate the need for new school builds at St Columbanus' College and Bangor Central Integrated Primary School, given the high pressures there and the fact that both are in dire need of long overdue capital investment. So, I will not mention those in the speech.
Although speaking as Chair of the Education Committee, I must admit that I have some sympathy with what Mrs Cochrane, Ms Hanna and others have mentioned. There is always a slight sense of déjà vu with finance debates, particularly those on the Budget, because we quite often have the Budget debate on the back of the debate on the Supply resolution. As somebody who spent many years in different guises on the Finance Committee, probably as punishment in the first mandate and possibly as closer to a reward in latter days, I totally empathise with the sometimes frustrating difficulty when you are effectively dealing with the same subject for the second or third time but are trying to find a new and novel spin on it. I congratulate Members on doing that.
On a broader level, one of the challenges of this Budget is the readjustment of Departments, which makes any degree of read-across difficult. Therefore, it is very difficult to compare like with like. To be fair, there is at least some opportunity for that in Education and Justice, because the changes to those Departments are very minimal. There is a de minimis type approach to Education, so you can look at a degree of read-across there. There is clearly some difficulty in going too much into the detail of the Education budget because, as with other Departments, we are awaiting the detail. I think that there will be key issues for the Minister to look at in terms of the prioritisation within that budget.
As such, all we can really do is look at the overall Budget position. What some others would see as a criticism of partial protection of Education would be seen by the Education Committee as having at least some level of virtue.
When we look at the Education budget or, indeed, any of the other departmental budgets, we have to realise the constrained circumstances that we are in. Looking around the House, I do not see anybody who has been here since 1998, but I am one of the few people who, as if in some sort of latter-day Canaan, lived through the days of milk, honey and plenty in the early days of the Assembly under the high level expenditure under Gordon Brown, where revenue budgets went up each year by a considerable amount. In many ways, it was a relatively easy job for any Assembly to decide how to spend that money if you were looking at a 5% rise in real terms. The task of dividing up that revenue is perhaps easier than when you are looking at what are effectively real-terms reductions. It is in that context that we need to look at the overall Education budget. Undoubtedly, there will be pressures in that budget. I suggest that they may not be quite of the nature that, at times, has been suggested by the Department, but, undoubtedly, there are pressures on the budget. One looks, for instance, at the pressures of an additional £30 million for National Insurance changes, which will impact on the departmental budget.
In actual figures, the revenue budget for Education sits now at just under £2 billion. One of the things that needs to be welcomed within that is that at least we have seen a small overall increase in the budget in actual terms but possibly not in real terms. The budget compared with last year is up £40 million. A lot of that is due to the fact that problems arose last year when money had to be found to meet additional teacher pensions. It was welcomed at that stage that not only was the £35 million found for that but that has now been put in the baseline of the Department. That, at least, relieves a degree of pressure in the Department.
In addition to the money that has been made available, it should be noted that, when some of the redundancies, particularly teacher redundancies, were met last year in the Department of Education, some of that effectively had to be found from the pre-existing Department of Education budget. The fact that that is not having to be found this year creates a degree of relief of pressure because you are not necessarily comparing like for like. There is the removal of a certain level of pressure, which gives a little headroom to the Department.
With regard to the transformation fund, the Department of Education, through a number of schemes, is the largest single beneficiary, with three schemes totalling around £72 million. Part of that — probably been the most controversial aspect — has been the proposal from the Minister of a £33 million scheme for teachers who are over the age of 55 on the condition that schools employ someone who has under three years' experience. At the bottom end of that, there has been a level of controversy about that. It is true to say that there is some concern in the Education Committee about whether the balance on that has been got right, but, undoubtedly, in respect of the £33 million, there are also figures that suggest that that will generate a certain level of savings for schools. That also needs to be taken into account, but I think that the Committee will want to hear more on that scheme. Hopefully, we will soon have the opportunity to quiz the Minister on that. The Committee will want to assure itself as to whether the detail of that has been got right.
The focus at times has, therefore, been so heavily on the £33 million that what has been ignored is the other £39 million in the budget for changes in redundancy. Some £14 million of that is directly for the potential redundancies of 300 teachers, and £25 million has been set aside for non-teaching staff. In certain respects, that will ease some of the pressures in the overall Education budget. Before Mrs Cochrane left, she referred to efficiencies. We should look at the non-teaching side of the Department of Education, where there is an opportunity for a level of reduction. In recent years, there has been a 6% increase in staff and a 10% increase in savings, so perhaps we are not starting from a position of the highest efficiency.
Last year, the Committee expressed concern about cuts made to the Curriculum Advisory and Support Service (CASS), the promotion of STEM and home literacy programmes such as the Book Trust. We wait with interest to see what the Minister prioritises in his budget. Perhaps it would be wrong to comment in too much detail at this stage. Suffice it to say that the desire is that there will be as much protection as possible for the aggregated schools budget to ensure that the money is spent on the front line. That would find resonance across the Chamber.
Finally, I want to touch on capital spend, and there is, potentially, a good news story, particularly in education. I will explain why. The capital budget reduced from £182 million in 2014-15 to £145 million this year, but it will move up to £193·7 million next year, which is very welcome. Mr McCrea and others referred to schools in their areas, and I suspect that we could all have a long list of schools, as is often the case with a capital budget. I suspect that the Minister will want to announce prior to dissolution how that money will be allocated among schools, and work on that is ongoing in the Education Authority. We all hope that the money will be spent in the best possible fashion, in the right place and in an equitable and equality-proofed way.
I sound a small note of caution. Mention was made of the very good work done on minor works, but we should put that into context. During this Assembly term, 56 major works have been announced. For a variety of reasons, including planning and procurement issues, work on the ground has started on only 21. The Committee will want to ensure that, when capital builds are announced, there is a quicker follow-up. Some minor works, which are welcome in and of themselves, arose because the capital budget could not be spent in-year. That money was diverted, so there was a shift. Nevertheless, with those caveats, we should all welcome an increase of about £48 million or £49 million for capital works. We look forward to drilling down with the Minister and his officials, hopefully in a relatively short time, on what the priorities and allocations are in the Education budget, and the Committee will very much take a watching brief.
Speaking as a DUP Member, I welcome the Budget, which comes before us in the difficult circumstances of wider financial pressures. I believe that the Minister and the Executive have done the best that is possible with the resources that they have. Therefore, I commend the Budget to the House.
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Tá áthas orm páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht seo inniu faoin cháinaisnéis. Mr Weir brings good news: I did not know that we had an extra £50 million for capital build.
I want to speak in favour and in defence of the Budget. It is a Budget of which we can be proud. These are tough issues and tough times. Despite that, we have come up with a Budget that will serve our people well. It does not have everything in it that I would like, and there are areas in which I would have liked to see additional expenditure. However, being in government, sharing power with others and having to come to agreed settlements mean that you do not get everything that you want. Despite that, there are many things in the Budget that the electorate will be grateful for. In particular, I am proud of the fact that we have set aside over half a billion pounds for welfare top-ups. No other place in these islands has managed to match that in any way at all. It is testimony to the generosity of the political parties that lead the Executive and to our constituents that they have agreed that we should set aside such a monumental sum of money to ease the effect of Tory welfare cuts.
I am also proud of some local things in the Budget. The school of law at Queen's will get £10 million. I really hope that the social investment fund prospers in the year ahead and that the money allocated to it is spent. I think of the Markets tunnel project, a magnificent project to link the Markets to the city centre. I hope that that will be realised —
I thank the Member for giving way. One tends to think purely of departmental budgets, but it is important to acknowledge that a number of projects in SIF have an educational focus. It was remiss of me not to mention them when I was covering education. Hopefully, that will make for a very positive intervention, particularly with our young people and the issue of underachievement.
Absolutely. Some of the projects-in-waiting are in the inner city. Some parties here do not have a lot of support in inner-city areas and are caustic about the social investment fund. In my view, however, the Sandy Row enterprise hub is a project that can transform Sandy Row. We need to put our shoulder to the wheel to make sure that these things happen. I am very proud of the fact that the A5 and A6 are now up and running. I salute those who convinced the Irish Government to put in their £75 million against our money. I welcome the fact that, through this Budget, we will start the north-west gateway between Derry and Donegal, as mentioned in the Fresh Start Agreement, with £1·5 million set against it.
I am enormously proud of the fact that we are spending £4·8 billion on our health service and well over £2 billion on our education service. Those who criticise and snipe at what we have done need to tell us what they would take from the health budget or the education budget and where they would put it. That is what has been absent. There have been attempts to denigrate the Budget, but there is no suggestion of where those people would take money from and where they would replace it.
In my view, not enough money is being set aside for economic development, but you can never have enough money. What we have done amounts to a good day's work: £170 million for Invest NI, £27 million for Tourism NI, £11 million for our friends in Tourism Ireland and £3 million for InterTradeIreland, with the last two being doubled by the Irish Government. That puts us on a strong footing as we move towards the introduction of corporation tax, making it affordable and ensuring that our people are skilled up and that we can grasp the full opportunity. Those are key achievements in the Budget of which we can be proud.
We can be very proud of the fact that we have capped student fees. Voices in the Chamber have said, "Heap more pain on students. Make them pay more for the liberation of a third-level education". We have said no to that. We have resisted calls in the Chamber to introduce water charges, which would be another tax on working families. We have stood by our senior citizens and refused to introduce fares for pensioners, and we will keep that free of charge. We have kept prescriptions free of charge. We can be proud of all those things. We have managed to deliver on those because of the leadership of the parties in the Chamber, in the Executive and in the main parties.
The only alternative that has been put up to the Budget is a suggestion from the SDLP that we take £800,000 from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and give it to women's centre kindergartens for childcare. Minister Morrow spoke positively last week, and I hope that he will find the £800,000 this week that we need for those hard-pressed women's centres and thus resolve the issue. But who will go into the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister in the morning and tell them that they are losing £800,000 from their budget? Who will hand out the 20 P45s to the 20 workers? Who will go to the Victims and Survivors Service and say that we are going to take away its entire budget of £800,000? It is my belief that they have not looked at the figures. They say that OFMDFM administration costs are going up at 23%, but they have not looked at the complexities or the programmes that it has taken on board since 2012-13 and the logical reasons for that. The reasons why administration costs have increased have been spelt out and are on the record. If we allow for the additional work and contingencies that OFMDFM has taken on — for example, responsibility for advertising and other things from Departments — like every Department, OFMDFM has reduced its administration budget between 2012 and 2015-16.
So, from my point of view, does this Budget deliver everything and is it a wish list for everyone? No, it is not. Is it a good day's work? It is a very good day's work. When I listen to Eileen Evason and others who are at the coalface of delivering change and a fair deal for those who are on the dole, those who are seeking work and working families, I think it is a good day's work. I support the Budget, and I am proud to support it. I think that we have done well, and we will do better in the time ahead, especially as we unite to build the economy.
I will speak on behalf of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development. The fact that the Budget for 2016-17 relates to the newly restructured Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, or DAERA, has muddied the waters a little for our Committee. As Members know, DAERA will not have responsibility for the Rivers Agency. However, it will have absorbed a number of other functions, including environmental and marine responsibilities from the Department of the Environment and inland fisheries responsibilities from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. It will also take policy responsibility for sustainable strategy from OFMDFM.
What we do know is that the budget for DAERA will be subject to a 5·7% cut to its resource. As a result, the new Department has been allocated a total of £197·9 million resource and £48·8 million capital. Departmental officials informed the Committee that that 5·7% resource cut will be applied pro rata across the three areas that are joining together to form DAERA. That equates to a cut of £10 million for DARD, £1·7 million for DOE functions and £0·3 million for inland fisheries.
The Committee has taken its duty to monitor DARD’s financial performance and its delivery of key services very seriously. However, it is important to note that it has been difficult for our Committee to anticipate or assess the true impact of the 5·7% cut to those areas that were previously under the remit of DOE and DCAL and, indeed, to the sustainable development functions under OFMDFM. Over the past year, DARD officials have told the Committee that there will have to be major changes in the services that are delivered and in how they are delivered by the new Department. We have heard that, to meet ongoing budgetary pressures, DAERA will have to be a more modern, leaner and digitally focused Department. The Committee is concerned that that might result in a reduction in the quality and availability of key services. However, Members also believe that the formation of the new Department presents an opportunity for efficiencies to be made. The streamlining of inspection regimes is an obvious example of that, and the Committee will certainly call for these types of savings to be realised as quickly as possible.
The Committee repeats its call for front-line services to farmers and the rural population to be protected from the worst of these cuts. In particular, the timely administration of CAP payments must remain a priority for the new Department. I am sure that all Members are aware of the falling farm-gate prices and ongoing struggles that are faced by farmers in Northern Ireland. Many of you will have read last week that farmers in Northern Ireland suffered a very significant drop in their incomes in 2015. That means that they rely more than ever on these direct payments as their major source of income.
The Committee acknowledges the work of DARD in the past year to ensure that over 96% of eligible farm businesses received their basic payment by January 2016. The Committee is anxious to see that record maintained and surpassed by DAERA, but that may prove challenging in the face of the cuts imposed by the Budget and the loss of over 300 staff to the recent voluntary exit scheme. On voluntary exit, the Committee was told last week that DARD expects to make savings of almost £5 million in staff costs in 2015-16. The first two groups left under the VES before the end of last year. The third tranche of staff left only at the end of January 2016, and the fourth group will not leave until the end of March 2016. DARD has chosen not to avail itself of a fifth tranche of voluntary exits. This means that the full impact of 300 staff leaving has not yet been felt in service delivery. The Committee feels very strongly that the departure of so many staff should not be allowed to impact the administration of all the EU payments that farmers and rural communities depend on so much.
I would now like to specifically reference the issue of TB compensation. The TB scheme costs DARD in the region of £30 million a year. This amounts to almost 15% of the resource allocation for the new Department. At a recent meeting where we discussed finances with DARD officials, the Committee was informed that there is still an outstanding pressure of £4 million for this scheme. It is alarming that DARD has not yet managed to get both the disease and the costs under control. Indeed, there are actually signs that TB rates are increasing again, which, in turn, means an even bigger call on the purse of the Department.
The funding of TB compensation has long been a concern for the Committee. DARD continues to make monitoring round bids in order to top up the funding for the scheme; this is not sustainable. Members have repeatedly called for the mainstreaming of TB compensation funding, which is, after all, a statutory obligation. We understood that this had been done, so it is very disappointing to see that DARD has had to make use of the monitoring rounds for this funding.
The Committee expects the new rural development programme (RDP) to play an important role in improving the lot of those who make their living in farming. Under the 2016-17 Budget, £5 million has been allocated to RDP. Officials confirmed to us that this will be used to fund the farm business improvement scheme, which they plan to launch in the 2016-17 financial year. This includes a capital investment element called the business investment scheme, which will provide capital support to farmers. However, the Committee has a number of outstanding concerns in relation to this scheme. For example, it has not been made clear to Members whether DAERA has received the necessary funds under Budget 2016-17 for the business investment scheme. We are also aware that DFP approval is required before any RDP-funded programmes can open. However, we have yet to be updated on the status of the business investment scheme business case. The Committee is certainly very eager to see the details of this scheme announced as soon as possible.
The Committee recently received a briefing on a major DARD IT project, the new Northern Ireland food animal information system. We were glad to hear that the procurement exercise for this is finally approaching completion. We were also reassured to hear that the project costs are likely to be less than originally estimated. The Committee was previously told that resource costs between 2014-15 and 2019-2020 were estimated to be £14·8 million. Capital costs for the same period would amount to £19 million. However, as a result of the tendering process, it seems that these projected costs can now be revised downwards.
Finally, I would like to make some brief remarks about funding to the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in the 2016-17 budget. AFBI plays a key role in Northern Ireland in providing research to our farming and agrifood industries. The Committee has received several briefings on AFBI in the past year. Members have repeatedly voiced their concerns about how budget cuts will affect the delivery of services. It is crucial to the industry that the institute’s capacity to carry out agricultural research is maintained. The plan to end several research programmes as part of AFBI’s Shrink to Grow strategy has certainly caused us concern. However, I will finish on a positive note. The Committee has been assured that AFBI’s R&D budget will be more protected in the future as a result of a change in Treasury rules. The Committee has always recognised that the success of the agrifood industry is dependent on research and development. As a result, we welcome this change.
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to address the House as Chair of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and to contribute to this debate. I wish to make a number of points, and maybe develop a number of points flowing from the spring Estimates debate last evening. Looking at the Budget, and it has been mentioned by colleagues, the Executive have allocated the Department of Health £128 million additional to its 2015-16 position, and that is very welcome news, right across the services sector and the wider constituency.
There are, however, ongoing cost pressures, which have been referred to. Costs continue to rise each year, and they are running roughly at about 5% to 6%. Typically, they are linked to pay and non-pay inflation. Obviously, they are linked to meeting the healthcare needs of an ageing population and continuing developments in technologies and treatments. That trend is expected to continue as we move forward into 2016-17 and beyond. In order to meet those pressures and supplement the baseline budget allocation, the Department is attempting to identify savings from trusts. It is attempting to look at other arm's-length bodies and its own administration costs, and that is an important point. From what we have heard, that will prove difficult, given the savings that it has already attempted to make in previous years.
I thank the Member for giving way. She will probably recall a Public Accounts Committee report, published last week, which alludes to a £131 million trust deficit. Has she any idea, in that case, where the £128 million increase will go, given that this is a one-year Budget? Will it go into that trust black hole? Is that something which Mr Ó Muilleoir can be proud of?
I thank the Member for his intervention, and I will develop the points around the real challenge in health: where current spend actually goes. There is no doubt that all of us, collectively, can stand behind the need for a reform agenda which will, I believe, if done properly, address some of the core issues. On the one hand, we have a Department that says it wants to protect front-line services; on the other, it allows trusts to cut the very same services that are required. I will develop that point further.
Of key concern to the Committee is the very point that I refer to. How will the Department allocate this budget for 2016-17 across a range of spending areas? It is an important point. When the officials were in front of us in January, we asked directly for that information. We asked directly for the Minister's priorities. That information is crucial because, obviously, spending decisions should be informed by ministerial priorities. The Member who previously spoke knows that officials were only able to provide us with a very broad-brush picture of the Minister's priorities. I will quote the officials, because they told us that the overall aim and vision is to build a world-class health and social care service, obviously. That should be the collective aim of all of us: to drive up the quality of health and social care for patients. Nobody in this House or beyond would disagree with those high-level objectives, but that does not provide us with the detail of how the £4·88 billion will be spent in 2016-17.
We were further advised that information on the Minister's priorities would be set out in the commissioning plan. I make the point that we were told that a draft of that would be forwarded to the Committee for comment by late January/early February. That document has still not been received for consideration by the Committee. That is disappointing, because the commissioning plan is really the key document setting out the services that the Minister wishes to fund in the coming year. For example, Members are very keen — as I am sure that wider society is — to hear how the Department will tackle the significant waiting times for elective care appointments. Again, officials were not able to advise us how much money would be allocated to that issue. They said that it would depend on what savings could be found in other areas. In the Committee's eyes, the rationale for that approach is really not clear. Surely, if something is a priority, money should be allocated to it. It should not be rocket science, but we need a set of clear priorities in order to do that.
Committee members have also been concerned about the areas where savings would be made. There has been a tendency to look for quick savings rather than take a long-term strategic approach. The Committee was firmly of the view that it does not want trusts to cut back on things like domiciliary care packages as a quick fix to balance the budget for 2016-17.
There are key questions about the spending plans for 2016-17 that remain unanswered, questions that are of vital interest to Members, healthcare professionals and the wider community. I make reference to one such question. When will we find the pay award for nurses? A total of £28 million is required out of the 2016-17 budget to fund the 1% pay increase.
I will make a number of comments as an individual MLA —
I thank the Member for giving way. As we work out how to spend this £4·8 billion, do you agree that it would be beneficial to the community if the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister of Education, found a way to tackle the long waiting lists for autism assessments? I know that there is a gathering this week in Stormont — maybe it was today — on that issue. Many of my constituents are in limbo: they are unable to get a child assessed and are therefore unable to source the correct educational route for the child.
I thank the Member for his intervention. Indeed, as we move radically to reform the delivery of our health system, we need to do so on the basis of targeting the need that exists. It was very apparent, and I am conscious that I am also a member of the Education Committee, that the responsibility for delays in processing special educational needs assessments lay at the door of the health trusts. There needs to be a direct intervention.
I want to make a number of comments in concluding. The system needs radical reform, and we very much welcome the Minister's reform agenda in that regard, but we need to get the meat on the bones. We need to get a sense of what that clear, costed, time-lined action plan will be. The real issue in the delivery of our health service is where current spend goes. There is a huge debate, and I do not think that anybody in the Chamber or beyond could, hand on heart, say that current spend is having the right or maximum outcome, so a radical reform agenda is needed.
We need to look at the opportunities that the streamlining of commissioning will bring. We need to appeal to the Minister's better judgement in and around the better GP prescribing programmes, which have been well documented in the Audit Office reports. We need to stop wasting public money on legal cases, over the ban on blood donations from members of the gay community, for example.
Finally, we need to look at the genuine removal of clinical excellence awards: £55 million has been paid out in the last five years, at a time when we cannot pay an extra 1% to our front-line nurses. There needs to be a radical overhaul of how we deliver health, and we in our party are up for that challenge and for the political leadership required to deliver.
I have to say that I am deeply worried — I would not say aghast — by some of the contributions. It is not the contributions themselves but the contradictions in those contributions that I am hearing. The last speaker was absolutely right in just about everything she said. She was right to be critical of the commissioning plan. She was right to be disappointed at not seeing targets in the overall Transforming Your Care plan. She was right to point out that waiting times are in disarray and that we are getting quick savings and quick fixes. She was right to say that there are key unanswered questions in the overall healthcare system. She was right to point to the fact that nurses are not getting a 1% pay rise.
Her colleague was also right in his point, although he did not go into the details of it — and I will give him some of them — that some waiting lists for autism assessments are two years long. The children are nearly grown up before they get a diagnosis.
Yet, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, we have to be proud of all that. We are hearing two voices from Sinn Féin today, one that is deeply proud; and I am trying to work out what the pride is here. Are we deeply proud that we took a whole load of numbers, however many billions, added them up, shared them out, and they added up on the bottom line? The underlying stories are what we really should ask questions about. Those are questions that my colleague from Derry rightly asks and which I will now continue to focus on.
As the Finance Minister and all of us are aware, there are many genuine pressures on the health service, which eats into nearly 50% of our overall Budget. The SDLP has expressed concern over the last number of years, and I think that colleagues agree that questions need to be asked. A lot of it emerges from fiscal shortfall, and the result is intolerable pressures on the Health and Social Care service. I do this in all my contributions because I think that it is important to reflect on it, but those pressures are felt by nearly 65,000 dedicated, professional staff who work to the highest standards, often in difficult circumstances. Their commitment, energy and compassion must receive the highest praise. I think that we should acknowledge that.
I am glad that the Minister has moved to introduce a well-deserved pay rise for staff, although the scale is criticised by unions. Nevertheless, nurses are still not getting what they deserve, and I do not think that that is something to be proud of. It remains worrying that the Minister is still embroiled in a dispute over junior doctors' contracts, while the same issue is to arise over consultants' contracts. We have to be aware of the implications of that, not just for the delivery or ultimately, if they move away, lack of delivery and the overall effect that it could have on the system. Those workers are an integral part of it. It is vital that any changes do not put patients' lives at risk and do not deter health staff from working here.
As we entered 2016, the Northern Ireland public again felt the cold face of the health service crisis, with seemingly insurmountable pressures on A&E and colossal queues for elective care. There are 400,000 people on waiting lists in the health system in Northern Ireland. Can we honestly stand in the Chamber today and say that we are proud of that? Over 20% of Northern Ireland's population is on a health waiting list. We have to start to think differently about how we deal with this. We have home closures followed by the stripping of home domiciliary care services. Maybe we should be proud of that. This is not about arriving at a figure and saying that we should be proud of allocating that over there, a little bit of that over there, or a big bit of that over there. It is about the delivery from what we spend. We need to hear in the Chamber that we are delivering for people, particularly vulnerable people. However, given that we are reaching figures of 400,000 people, this is extending beyond what we would normally think of as vulnerable people living in poverty. This is extending into a much wider circle that has grown over five years.
The system could be said to be at breaking point. Patients and staff are suffering on the front line. It is our responsibility, in the Chamber, to point that out. That is not just being negative; it is what a good Budget is about. It is about allocating the right amount of money to achieve the right outcome. Against that backdrop, the latest winter hospital statistics are not surprising. We have been pointing that out for months. What continues to shock the public and others is that the Minister and the Department have continually failed to implement a robust and coherent long-term strategy to deal with increased demand on the system.
Another fact is that Northern Ireland now has the worst record in the UK on the 12- and four-hour waiting targets for emergency care. That is reflected in emergency departments across the North of Ireland.
Patients are being put at risk, with hospitals continuously breaching targets that were put in place to ensure speedier diagnosis and treatment. Are we to be proud or critical of that? When I say "critical of that", I mean not just negative criticism. I think that the Minister understands that. If I interpret him rightly, he comes from a background that likes to see a sufficient allocation, outcomes for people, and money spent well and properly so that we get the maximum return from it. I do not think that we will disagree on that issue. That is a very important aspect of what we are arguing about.
We have seen a massive crisis in elective care. Once again, we shifted money away from one area to A&E and created a new crisis. As I said, it now extends to 400,000 people. That is worrying on two fronts. First, some of the £40 million that was allocated to elective care operations could not be spent, because the administration was too bloated and the photocopiers could not deal with the system. Secondly, we heard that a number of cancer operations were cancelled, so it is not just elective care but emergency care.
I have listened to the Member raise genuine issues about concerns that are out there. He rightly acknowledges the work of our healthcare professionals. I did that in the House even yesterday. That is the right thing to do. Is the Member telling us, however, that his party would now reverse its position on welfare, for example, and say that the money that was negotiated for the mitigation measures and the money that we will spend on welfare should be put into our health service? Let us remember that his party voted against the Budgets, so is he saying that we should not have allocated an additional £133 million resource DEL to the Department of Health or provided £40 million before Christmas to help with waiting lists? Is he saying that those are things that we should not have done?
I take his point that I like to see outcomes, but I realise that the sad reality of the House — I have said this time and again — is that we have political wish lists longer than the length of the Chamber. Collectively, parties are going to have to say, "Yes, we would like to be able to do that, but our priority is our health service and delivering for that". It is time that his party stopped making the case for some of the things that it has advocated. We would then have the resources to deal with the issues.
It also comes down to another issue, and I said this to Mrs Cochrane the Member for East Belfast. When we talk about rationalisation, tell us where you want the services to end. Tell the people. In my constituency, does it mean that we have to tell people that the Causeway Hospital should close? Is that the sort of rationale and rationalisation that the Member and his party support?
I will give a very short answer: no. That is not what I am proposing at all. In fact, as I go through my speech, I will point out areas in which we could save money in the system, because there is enormous waste in the health system.
I will deal with this now, given that the Member elaborated on it extensively and asked me directly about it. The reality is that it is not just about money. I have not so far said anything about wanting more. The one point on which I intervened concerned the trust money — the £128 million — that you pointed out. My worry is that, because this is a one-year Budget, that is going into a black hole. At the time of the conclusion of the PAC report, the trusts were sitting with £131 million of debt. Of course, the PAC report was published some time back — somebody can tell me when it was — so it could be £160 million now. In other words, we are pushing money at problems and we are not solving them, which gets me to my core point.
The Minister asked me a question in a particular way, and I hope this answers it: this was foreseen in 'Transforming Your Care'. There was a sentence in 'Transforming Your Care' that was very good and summed it all up; it said that a failure to plan would lead to "haphazard change". We have got haphazard change now by any measure, and it is wasting good public money. The wastage in the system is the issue.
If the then Minister of Finance and Personnel, the then Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the then First Minister and the then Minister for Social Development — I am pointing to four DUP Ministers — had even sat round their own kitchen tables, they might have got some consensus on this. They did not have to reach out to everybody else, because there was a consensus in 2011 that we needed to deal with the issue in terms of flow.
Like a business, what flows through the system is what is important. It would have taken some money, and if the Minister is saying to me what I think he is, he too will back our proposal to put health at the very top of the Executive's priorities so that we can begin to sort this problem out once and for all. That will entail investing some money at the start to alleviate the problems at the Causeway Hospital and in Ballymena on the community side. We need to take the pressure off the expensive accident and emergency side and the elective care side so that we are dealing with people and giving them a service in their own areas — not necessarily a hospital service, because we could shift the context —
That is already being done in Ballymena with the new centre that will be opened. The Member is almost arguing against his own point. At Altnagelvin, a huge investment has been made in a service that will be of immense benefit to people who have particular issues and challenges due to cancer, which is something that far too many households face. Let us not try to paint a different picture.
The difficulty I have had since coming into this job in recent weeks — this was mentioned by the Member opposite — is that it is almost as though we have not been spending almost half of Northern Ireland's Budget allocation on health. Sometimes, we focus on specific problems. As the son of a father who has spent almost nine months under the care of the health service, I know all too well the huge amount of money that that has cost our system but, as a family, we appreciate everything that has been done, and there are many other thousands of families like mine.
I get that. I have also had experience, and I refer to it in every contribution. If we were properly dealing with the community side, we would not have had 791 patients in hospital over Christmas who could not get domiciliary care packages. Somebody needs to do the maths. There were 124 of those people who stayed in hospital for more than two months. Those were people who did not need to be in hospital but stayed there. Depending on the part of the system they were in, it might be more or less expensive than domiciliary care, but my guess is that, when we do the maths, we will find that it was significantly more expensive than the adequate provision of a home-care package in the first place.
Thank you. I was waiting with bated breath to hear about the prosperity plan. I am happy to have a health debate. I do not know whether the Member is proud of the fact that we have set aside £4·8 billion for health, but I am. If he thinks that anyone on this side of the Chamber or the other side of the Chamber is not going to demand and insist on delivery, he has not been listening to what we have been saying today when we challenged the Economy Minister on some of the problems within DETI. We will insist on proper delivery and excellence in every Department.
However, I am still waiting to hear what the SDLP would do.
The only suggestion so far is that you will take £800,000 from OFMDFM, perhaps closing down the Victims and Survivors Service — that is £800,000 — or making 20 people redundant. You want to give that to the women's centre childcare unit, which, in fact, is being sorted out. However, you make a fair point: you have suggested that, out of a huge budget, you will take £800,000 from one Department and put it into another.
After all of the talking tonight, are you saying that you have laboured long and hard over this but will not tell us how you would move money between Departments? Do you want to spend more on health? You seemed to be saying that in your earlier suggestions. If it is more than £4·8 billion, where is it coming from? If it is to come from savings, that is interesting because, then, the SDLP's position is that the only thing that should be different in the Budget is that there should be more efficiencies. I think that everybody would sign up for that. If there is to be a bold — we heard that word used earlier — ambition behind the prosperity plan, which we are still waiting for, let us know what it is, because we would like to see an alternative. There is no monopoly on budgets, so tell us where you would remove the money from. Would it be from the Culture Department, from DOE, from DRD or from the economy? Where will you take money from to give you that additional spending power, or is there no additional spend intended? I do not know whether that will be in the prosperity plan, when we see it, but, to me, raiding £800,000 from OFMDFM and making 20 people redundant is kindergarten economics.
Thank you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker. I will get to addressing some of the issues. The Member said that Sinn Féin would interrogate the issues: where was the interrogation of the failure to implement Transforming Your Care? There were 99 targets, but little was done. The Department produced a report, but I did not see much interrogation of that. I have to laugh: Sinn Féin's economic plan includes paying off everybody's credit card debt, and he wants to hear from me about my plan. Maybe you should come and join the SDLP, Máirtín. That would be the answer. We will give you plenty to talk about and chew over. You do not have any plans. All that you have is a plan to say that you are proud of adding up figures on one side and not on the other.
I talked about the prospect of investing to save, but I said that in the context of making that we make health the top priority in the Executive. If we do that, it will involve Departments other than the Health Department seeing health outcomes as a priority for them. In other words, let us begin to deal with the core issues and get to the root of the debate: the real issues that cause problems in our health service — not just the flows through it but the issues that cause the logjams. They emerge from long-term unemployment and long-term deprivation in communities such as west Belfast, and you know all about that. Statistics show that west Belfast, north Belfast, my colleague's West Tyrone constituency and Derry and places like it still top the UK league tables for deprivation and long-term unemployment. If we were to begin to tackle those issues strategically, we would have a different approach, but Máirtín is stuck on the figures. He is just adding up figures and saying that he cannot think beyond that. He says that we are asking to move money on the abacus from here to there and back again: that is not what I am talking about, and that is not what the SDLP is talking about. The SDLP is talking about beginning to make Northern Ireland work, be self-sufficient —
You have made it clear that Sinn Féin is bereft of ideas and is reaching out to ask the SDLP. I am explaining the prosperity process, and he is not listening. It is about making Northern Ireland work, once and for all. We have had 40 years of people destroying this place and imposing the very deprivation and long-term unemployment that led, for example, to the long-term mental health issues that my colleague continues to refer to. We, across the Chamber, know that only too well, and we know how much it costs the Health Department. We have to wake up. We have an election in three months' time. The Programme for Government negotiations have to include those elements at its core, or we will have forgotten what we are about.
I thank the Member for giving way. I listened to him and thought that he had a copy of the Ulster Unionist Party's 'Vision' document, because it seems as though they are using the same script. It talks about wanting to make Northern Ireland work. Hold on: let us remember that the SDLP stayed in the Executive and voted against everything, and the Ulster Unionist Party walked out of the Executive. They had their opportunity to make Northern Ireland work and, clearly, were not capable of doing the job. Either they do what the SDLP does, which is stay in and snipe from the sidelines, or they do what the Ulster Unionist Party does, which is pack up your school bag and leave.
I am sorry, Mr Speaker, the one thing that I was not doing and have not done during the debate is snipe from the sidelines. I am trying to come up with constructive answers to some of the bigger long-term problems that this constituency has. The Minister did not refer to the chronology of when he heard whatever, but, if he is suggesting that Sinn Féin is looking for our ideas on the one hand and the UUP has stolen our ideas on the other, I will be entirely happy with his intervention.
I want to ask the Minister a question directly. I have referred to it, but I want an answer if possible. It also refers to the nature of that. The budget rise is £128 million, but the trusts' deficit is £131 million. We need to know where that money is going. Is it going to future provision? Could it go to transformation or current pressures? Is it merely going into that black hole? For us, that is deeply worrying.
I take issue with the repeated concept that we are sniping. Neither I nor the SDLP is sniping. We see an opportunity going into the election and beyond, starting in this mandate and potentially going across mandates, to begin to deal fundamentally with some of the big issues that affect this society. These are societal issues, and that is what we are here for — at least, that is what I understood we were here for, not merely adding up numbers and claiming to be proud of that as an active act in itself.
The Health Minister pointed to a transformation fund aimed at encouraging reform and innovation. Given the earlier comments, I cannot see anywhere where that has been fleshed out in the Budget. It may form part of Professor Bengoa's deliberations or analysis — I am not sure what to call it — but I look forward to his proposals. We have had reports — I have referred to the Transforming Your Care report — and we have had reports on reports. Donaldson came in and said, "Get on with implementing Transforming Your Care, and that might get you off the starting blocks". My worry is that we will simply, through these other processes, have activity disguised as movement. As I have been arguing, now is the time for action, not analysis. We had consensus on reform, as we have said, and very little in outcome through implementation.
I touched on the TYC plan momentarily, but maybe I will flesh it out because it was the plan. Even the Department's analysis has shown that it has barely moved on its update. Proposal 9 dealt with domiciliary care and the home being the hub of care, which is a key provision. What do we end up with? The report states:
"analysis of current models of delivery and options for service redesign [will] inform future regional commissioning and procurement activities."
In other words, the homework has not been done.
We also need a direct answer on this. The Minister released £1·6 million for the independent sector, and if the homework has been done and if that sector has been in touch with the Department, the Department will know that, in fact, that sector is saying that it needs £36 million between now and April and another £9 million annually thereafter. Recipients of those care packages are some of the most vulnerable and frail people in society, and the Chamber owes it to them to ensure that their care needs are adequately met. I will make the point again that it is as a result of the failure of delivery of those care packages or the weakness of the care packages that, very often, our old people are presenting in accident and emergency because they cannot get the proper service or are not getting the GP service that they need. Their presenting at A&E is causing the crisis. The logical conclusion is not just about moving money around; the logical conclusion is that it is a systems failure and that the system needs to be fixed.
I could go through much more of the detail, but I am glad that we have had the debate and that it has widened out to some of the issues that I referred to. We need to make a health and social care system that is fit for the 21st century. We have an opportunity to do that. I reiterate: we can allocate money from now until the cows come home, but we need to do it with a plan that delivers for the people of Northern Ireland.
I am pleased to speak as the Ulster Unionist education spokesperson on the Budget agreed for 2016-17 by the DUP and Sinn Féin. My focus is on the future generations of Northern Ireland. Education is a key Department and one that we, as elected representatives, need to get right. Our young people deserve our focus and attention.
As we look ahead to the new financial year and a new mandate for the Assembly, we know that Education is one of the Departments that will remain largely in its current state. All the Department's current functions will be carried forward, with some additional responsibilities in the new Department. Last month, in presenting the DUP/Sinn Féin Budget for 2016-17, the Finance Minister announced an extra £40 million for the Department of Education. At £1,948 million, the opening baseline resource budget for Education in 2016-17 is almost identical to the 2015-16 figure. That represents 19% of the non-ring-fenced DEL. That appears to be a very placid situation compared with the recently recurring annual crises over school budgets, but we know that schools are having to deal with other costs and with inflationary costs, which I will refer to later.
It seems like only yesterday that savage cuts to the Department of Education were being proposed. Last year, it was suggested that up to 1,000 teachers and 1,500 support staff could lose their jobs. Whilst that doomsday scenario never came to pass, very worthwhile schemes were cut and discontinued, such as the primary-school modern languages programme, the Sentinus programme and, particularly regrettably, the signature programmes in numeracy and literacy.
I would like to turn to the Youth Service. Given that the Education Minister announced his decision to dissolve the Youth Service and subsume the responsibilities into the Education Authority, I question whether cost savings are foreseen in that regard and whether there is evidence that money will be saved. I have concerns that our Youth Service may lose out on much-needed funding for the sector, since the Youth Service Northern Ireland multiplied the funding that it received fivefold.
Focusing on schools, I reiterate something that my colleague and predecessor as education spokesperson, Danny Kinahan MP, used to call for, and that is a joined-up education plan for the future so that schools know what is happening and have some degree of certainty about their annual budget allocation. I have been speaking to numerous schools, and they are frustrated with the lack of information and the lack of the stability that the Budget system brings them. They want to be able to be more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to figures that are given to them. I acknowledge that we are in a unique situation because of the one-year extension to the Assembly's mandate, but surely a better and more certain budgetary process can be worked out for schools. The Chair of the Committee referred to the aggregated schools budget, and I agree that it could be better secured from one year to the next. After the election, the Minister will be able to make a budget over the period of the mandate, yet there will be fluctuations year on year within the aggregated schools budget.
The Department of Education faces significant funding pressures going into 2016-17. The funding of shared education in the incoming year and further years deserves careful consideration. Over a year ago, £500 million of new capital funding for shared education over a 10-year period was announced in the Stormont House Agreement. However, the DUP/Sinn Féin Fresh Start Agreement states that that money can also be used for mixed housing projects. It is time that we had clarity on this issue, and I would appreciate that.
More widely on shared education, and being conscious of the Bill going through the Assembly, it is time that questions over the financial viability of that policy were explored. Option 4 in the business plans for shared education would cost £44 million annually, which, after four years, will apparently be absorbed into the mainstream schools budget. I wonder whether that is realistic or sustainable. I hope we can get answers to these questions.
The Programme for Government has a commitment to creating 10 shared campuses by 2018. The total cost of implementing these sorts of infrastructure projects could approach £1 billion, yet there is no funding secured for that. It is assumed that the EU Peace IV might be a possibility, even though the EU has already spent a total of £2 billion in Northern Ireland since 1994. So there is considerable uncertainty about funding for shared education, both in 2016-17 and into the future.
More immediately pressing, and referred to earlier, are the pension scheme revaluations. Those are likely to result in additional employer contribution costs and increase operating costs by 4·1%. With the single-tier pension scheme in place from April this year, schools will also face an increase of 3·4% in National Insurance contributions. In the current financial year, the Department received additional in-year funding to address the pension-related pressures. I would like to hear from the Minister where those costs will be covered in 2016-17.
The teaching workforce scheme was announced by the Minister but is going through an equality impact assessment only now, and we are not clear at this stage where that is going. It is not clear how the scheme will be allocated funding and what savings — if any — will be realised. It has been mooted that savings made through the scheme will remain with individual schools. I would appreciate clarity on that. What has been announced is a £33·1 million investment for the early retirement of 500 teachers over the age of 55 years, replacing them with recently qualified teachers. That proposal is causing considerable unrest on equality grounds, but a financial question has not been addressed: the £33·1 million quoted is at variance with the £47·3 million allocated to the teaching workforce in the Executive Budget for 2016-17 under the public sector transformation fund. I would appreciate clarification on that matter.
There are unanswered questions with regard to the Budget in respect of education. I can tell you that principals are worried. They are concerned about the future of their schools and the education of the children in their care. I share their concern, but I am sure that this is not as good as it gets.
I rise as the DUP lead on the Committee for the Environment, and I will be brief.
Much of what is being discussed is based on the restructuring of the Department of the Environment and the transfer of functions following the reduction in the number of Departments from 12 to nine as outlined in the Stormont House Agreement. The Department of the Environment will cease to exist and its powers will transfer to three new Departments in the hope that the work will become more efficient and streamlined, and its functions more cohesive.
Whilst work is ongoing as to how those functions will be delivered, it is hoped that the priorities for the new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs will include improving waste management, protecting our ecosystems and improving water quality. Powers that will transfer to the Department for Infrastructure will, amongst others, aim to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads through improved road safety and better regulation of the transport sector, with the new Department for Communities working towards supporting the economic benefits of vibrant and diverse communities in a manner that protects our built heritage.
As the Budget is based on the new nine-Department model, I have concerns as to how these extremely wide-ranging functions will be met, particularly given that there will be a further budgetary reduction of 5·7%. Whilst a huge saving has been made in the current Department of the Environment through the voluntary exit scheme, I fear that, once the scheme has been exhausted, we will be faced with a gaping hole in funding for environmental schemes, road safety and historical protection.
The unprecedented flooding that many areas have experienced over the last number of weeks is a stark reminder of the danger posed to our ecology and how changes in our weather systems can have a devastating effect on communities. We must be working towards protecting our environment, and my concern is that further stretching of an already overextended budget will mean that the departmental functions will become so watered down that they will fail to provide the protections that we so desperately need.
I welcome the opportunities for greater departmental cooperation and the financial economies that this may bring, for example in the transfer of built heritage, which will see greater partnership with National Museums and public records to improve public viewing and ease of access, or in sharing departmental staff with roads, rivers and emergency response units. Also, the opportunity for greater collaboration on air quality, wildlife regulations and agriculture will provide a common-sense approach to working, and I look forward to seeing the efficiencies that this will bring.
In closing, my primary concern is in protecting our environment, both natural and built, for future generations. I hope that we can continue to identify where efficiencies can be made and that this does not come at the expense of our ecosystems and heritage.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate this evening. Perhaps interesting is not the word I will use, but we have certainly heard a number of things from a number of different Members. I think that there are two things that we need to bear in mind as we consider this Budget and, indeed, any Budget that comes before us. The first is that we are still heavily dependent on funding from Her Majesty's Treasury. It has already been said that our fiscal deficit is in the region of £9·2 billion. That is over £5,000 per person. Secondly, and as a consequence of that, if we want funding for a particular area or project, we either have to take money away from another area or project or we need to raise revenue. We have heard a lot of criticism of the Budget, but we have heard very little that has been volunteered on areas in which we would cut spending to compensate for increases elsewhere, and we have heard very little about the revenue that others would like to raise. I think it is important that we consider these things as we approach this Budget. We are dependent on the Treasury and the block grant, and that is something that we need to keep in mind.
I very much support the Budget that is in front of us, and I do so for a number of reasons. First, there is the priority that it places on certain issues. I think that the priorities in this Budget reflect those of the people of Northern Ireland. If you go onto the streets and ask people what they think needs protecting and where we should be spending most of our money, I am sure that on nearly every occasion they will tell you that they want to protect health and education. I think it is right that, although we are in a very difficult and constrained environment, we have still been able to offer a degree of protection to those Departments. I think that that is welcome.
The Member is critical of others who have not come up with ideas yet, and he pointed to a £9·2 billion black hole in our finances. Can the Member outline his plans for reducing that and for making Northern Ireland more sustainable?
I thank the Member for his intervention. Of course, it is not a black hole in our finances in so far as we have the money coming towards us. What the Member perhaps means is that we get more from Westminster than we raise in taxation, and that is absolutely right. One of the ways in which we fix that problem, or try to improve it, is by growing our economy and the private sector. It will be exceptionally difficult for us to completely bridge that gap, because when you have a capital city the size of London, where, I think, £1 out of every £7 in taxation comes from, with the growth that is there, it will always be difficult for other regions. I think that only London, the south-east and the eastern region are net contributors to the UK economy whereby more money is brought in through taxation than is spent on public services. We need to fix that. We also need to make sure that we grow our private sector and that we have more jobs and opportunities, which I will come to later, so that we can also reduce the size of the welfare state, take people off welfare and make sure that they are in work instead.
One of the reasons why I support the Budget is that I believe that it is a continuation of the positive policies that have helped us in Northern Ireland over the last number of years. What have the Executive been able to do? Let us first look at rates. The Executive have used the lever that we have for rates to help our economy and business here: 4,437properties have benefited from industrial derating. Business regional rates here have increased at a much lower rate than in the rest of the UK, and 35,600 properties have benefited from the small business rate relief scheme. That is to be welcomed because it has helped our small businesses, and I am glad that we will continue it.
What else have we done? We have used the rates tools available to us, but we have also invested in infrastructure. As a Member representing East Antrim, I am absolutely delighted at what the Executive have delivered on infrastructure. If you now want to visit Larne or Carrickfergus, you will be able to get there in a very short time, thanks to the massive investment that we have had in those projects. Of course, we see that in other parts of the Province as well since devolution returned. The road to Dungannon, which is, I think, the A4, the A5 and the A6 are other transport corridors that will benefit from Executive investment. So, we need to continue that investment in infrastructure.
In addition, look at what we have been able to do on tax with some of the powers that we have. It is good that we have devolved corporation tax, as it is another tool that we now have. We can say that we have a date and a rate, and we can go out there and sell that to businesses and investors.
On air passenger duty, I have used the United service from Belfast to Newark a number of times, and it is good that we have been able to maintain that service because of the devolution of air passenger duty on long-haul flights. I would say to the Minister and his successor, the next Economy Minister, that it is imperative that action be taken on air passenger duty across the whole of the UK. I do not believe that we can sort out that issue ourselves, but it would be of benefit not only to us but to the whole of the United Kingdom if the Westminster Government realised that that is a tax that we should not have.
I look at the example of the Netherlands. It brought in air passenger duty for, I think, only a year or two. It raised over €300 million as part of that duty, but it is estimated to have cost its economy €1·2 billion. I therefore urge the next Executive to ensure that we push the Government to get rid of that tax across the whole of the United Kingdom, because I believe that that would be of benefit to the whole of the United Kingdom. We need a hub airport in the UK, and we need to increase our aviation capacity in the south-east, and that should not be going to Amsterdam, Frankfurt or anywhere else.
I thank the Member for giving way. I concur with his comments. He will be aware that I was recently in front of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the issue, and I think that there will be interesting conclusions as a result of that inquiry. He will also be aware that Willie Walsh made some comments today on the issue. Mr Walsh also referred to the air route development fund that we are seeking to bring into existence. I inform the Member that I intend to meet the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment tomorrow on that, because, in the absence of any movement on APD in the United Kingdom, we will need to pursue the air route development fund, which has already received some good comments from Mr Walsh.
I thank the Minister for his intervention. It is good to see that the issue is a priority for him and, I hope, the Executive. I completely concur with what he said about the air route development fund. We should be unashamedly trying to attract new routes and to grow the number of air routes that we have. Yes, it is good for business, but it is also good for tourism, which is obviously a priority for us. As a Member who represents a very beautiful coastal constituency, I want to see —
No, I do not represent North Antrim. It is one step better: East Antrim. I think that we have a much longer coastline than North Antrim does. George Robinson, who is sitting beside me, mentions East Londonderry as well. We have beautiful places all over Northern Ireland, and we want to make sure that we attract as many people here as possible.
The Executive have done a very good job of using the tools that are at their disposal to help our economy. If we are looking for some figures to prove that, in the year to September 2015, 12,000 private-sector jobs were created in Northern Ireland. That does not happen by itself. Those jobs were not created because we did nothing; rather, they happened as a result of the policies enacted by the Executive. That is to be very much welcomed.
Therefore, I support the Budget because of its priorities, and I support it because of the continuation of positive policies that have delivered so much for Northern Ireland. I also support the Budget because I believe that it is forward-looking. Some have criticised it for a lack of vision, but that is completely ill-founded criticism.
The new Department for the Economy is covered from page 55 onwards, and I am very encouraged by what I see there. We have an Executive that understand where we need to be. We cannot do things in the way in which we have always done them. We cannot continue to do what we have done in decades past, because our world has changed and the economy has changed. Recent job losses in Northern Ireland have demonstrated that, as a result of the globalised economy in which we now operate, we need to be more competitive than ever. Our workforce needs to be of the highest quality, with the best skills, and we need to be out there ensuring that we have that type of workforce so that we can attract jobs for our people. I read the document, and I see that the Minister has indicated the importance of stimulating:
"research & development, innovation and creativity".
It is also very clear that he has indicated that we need to prepare for the skills implications of the introduction of the lower rate of corporation tax, and that is absolutely right. Corporation tax is a very important tool that we have at our disposal, but we cannot just cut the rate and wait for the jobs to come. We have to prepare for it, and that is something that the Executive are taking seriously.
Investing in economic infrastructure, working with others and investing in innovation, research and development are all really important so that we can have the jobs for our people in the 21st century. That is very welcome.
We have before us a one-year Budget. I know that there has been a bit of discussion about that, and some people think that we should perhaps have had a longer period. As we come to the end of a mandate, it is right that we do not set a Budget that ties the hands of the next Executive. What we have is a road map for the way forward for the next 12 months. It will then be up to the new Executive and the new Assembly to decide their priorities.
I very much welcome the Budget. It is a springboard for us to move forward, and I thank the Minister for his work on it. I challenge the other parties: if you are going to vote against the Budget, you need to say very clearly where you will take money from and where you will put it. Otherwise, you are just doing a disservice to the people we represent. I support the Bill.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Second Stage of the Budget Bill as a member of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee. Our economy must continue to be a central priority for us all as we move forward. Over the last 12 months, our economy has seen challenges and opportunities. It is important that Northern Ireland continues to be positive about being open for business and a place that is welcoming and supportive of new business. We recognise the need to support Invest NI, which will continue to target inward investment, promote domestic growth, provide trade support, support the private sector in investment in R&D and grow our export base.
The planned reduction in corporation tax from April 2018 provides us with a real opportunity to grow our economy. The Ulster University estimates that the 12·5% rate could create up to 32,000 additional jobs and help to grow our economy by an additional 10% over 15 years. However, we need to be prepared for the new rate. We need to ensure that Invest NI is given adequate resources and the budget required to ensure that we open the proper doors across the world, wherever they may be. The work needs to start now to maximise the potential for our economy and ensure that the skills needed are in place to support any new jobs. We need to invest now to ensure that we get it right on foreign direct investment to really grow our economy. It is crucial that the right skills budget is in place to align the work of DEL and DETI in attracting foreign direct investment as we go forward with the Department for the Economy, particularly the £5 million that is needed for the skills agenda.
Invest NI's mid-year performance for 2015-16 highlighted positive developments, and a £550 million investment in R&D reiterates the value of attracting jobs to Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that the 7·1% reduction in Invest NI's resource budget will present challenges. However, I believe that it is best equipped to deliver for Northern Ireland and, with the right support from the Executive, I have every confidence in Invest's ability to deliver.
Energy costs continue to be a challenge to growing our economy, no more so than in the manufacturing sector. We need to see real progress on the North/South interconnector to help reduce energy costs across the sector. That has been kicked around the Assembly for years. The extension of the gas network to other parts of Northern Ireland is also vital to keep energy costs competitive for all our customers.
As has been mentioned by a number of Members, tourism is another key aspect of our economy, and I believe that it is a sector that has not yet reached anywhere near its full potential. The overall visitor figures confirm that Northern Ireland is now a must-see destination, with overall visitor numbers increasing by 9% in the 12 months to June 2015 along with other encouraging signs in external and business visitor figures. Northern Ireland is fast becoming a real destination for top sporting events. Funding streams such as the tourism events programme are crucial in helping to run top-class events locally. The value of international events, such as the North West 200, the Circuit of Ireland and the Irish Open, should not be underestimated. They all attract many international competitors, spectators and their families, bringing people to these shores for the first time. They get a real sense of what this place is about and cannot wait to return.
The Budget presents real challenges as we seek to grow our economy. Last night, I welcomed the Finance Minister's commitment when he stated in the House that skills investment was vital to our economic development. I note that, in addition to the £5 million being made available to the new Department for the Economy as part of the 2016-17 Budget, £20 million will be made available for the area as part of the June monitoring round.
It is crucial, as we move forward into the new mandate with the new more streamlined Executive that came through the Fresh Start Agreement, that the economy remains our number one priority. There is an opportunity for the new Northern Ireland investment fund and the economic strategy to bring real benefit, as we seek to make Northern Ireland the number one place to do business.
As this is Mr McCrossan's first opportunity to speak as a private Member, I remind the House that it is the convention that a Member's maiden speech is made without interruption — that is, if you choose not to express views that may provoke an intervention; otherwise you may be likely to forfeit that protection.
Before I turn to the Budget for 2016-17, I pay tribute to Joe Byrne, the man whom I have replaced. Joe steadfastly served the constituency of West Tyrone since his re-election in 2011, having previously been a Member of the House from 2003 to 2007. A man of great party standing, Joe served in a multitude of roles in the SDLP and remains the party treasurer. During his time in the Assembly, he served as agriculture spokesperson and tirelessly stood up for the rural constituency of West Tyrone and its people. Mr Byrne has given me the opportunity to carry on the great work that he has conducted over a long number of years for the people of that area, both when elected and unelected. I can only hope that I can serve West Tyrone with the dignity and diligence that Mr Byrne showed. He is, truly, a great loss to the House.
The Budget for 2016-17, as outlined to the House in January, is unique as a one-year budget that has been put together in the aftermath of the Stormont House Agreement. This Budget has left no time for my colleagues and me or, for that matter, anyone else in the House to properly scrutinise the amounts contained for each Department. There is no doubt that the infrastructure budget faces serious challenges, and coming from West Tyrone, I can speak very clearly on that. There is a serious need for major investment in that part of Northern Ireland.
The average spend on our roads over the previous mandate has been roughly £70 million per annum. What is it this year? Twenty million pounds. I do not see this as a forward-looking Budget. I can only imagine that rural constituencies such as my own will be the first to fall foul of that budget decrease. Furthermore, we were promised real progress on the A5 and A6 in this Budget, which is laughable, given the allocation of a mere £100 million. That is a significant shortfall on what it is expected will be needed to complete the overall project.
The people of West Tyrone are not filled with optimism by this allocation. They are very depressed and have lost faith in the parties and politicians of West Tyrone and Northern Ireland, because they have failed to deliver time and again. All that have been delivered are false and broken promises about these major flagship projects. I sincerely hope that this is not — I repeat not — another empty promise about the A5.
The theme of empty promises is not alien to the people of West Tyrone. Last year, 17·7% of my constituents were in receipt of at least one disability-related benefit. A higher proportion of people who live in West Tyrone were in receipt of at least one disability-related benefit when compared to the Northern Ireland average of 13·7%. West Tyrone has the third highest proportion of disability-related benefit recipients. Last year, around 2,800 people in West Tyrone were claiming income support, of whom around 2,680 were of working age. That equates to 4·6% of working-age people claiming that benefit.
My home town of Strabane has fallen foul of chronic unemployment and underinvestment for decades. The people whom I meet each day in my constituency office relay their struggles to find work. Young people are desperate for opportunities and for a direction from the House on how they can better their lives, improve their lives, and survive and sustain themselves in their own home area. Some are stuck in a cycle of poverty and others are leaving to avoid it. Strabane is consistently highlighted as an area where deprivation is rife and little has been done to rectify that fact. This Budget will not rectify that fact.
Our young people are leaving in droves to find greater economic opportunities. It is often highlighted that they go to England or Australia; I know many of them, and many are family members. Often in West Tyrone, the reality is that younger people are migrating to Belfast. This is a glaring indicator of the extent of regional disparities in the North. We were told last year that Ministers here were taking responsibility for the generational neglect of the north-west by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The ministerial subgroup on economic inactivity in the north-west has met twice since then; the second meeting was called only 24 hours before it took place. That does not inspire much confidence.
It is not just job opportunities that are lacking in the west. One of the big disappointments in many rural areas across Northern Ireland is the vexed question of no, or poor, broadband services. We heard a significant debate in the House today about that. West Tyrone has terrible broadband services. Some areas are completely cut off and isolated, and businesses are suffering from poor connections. This greatly impedes existing small- and medium-sized enterprises from developing, and it discourages start-ups and enterprising activity. Many people who are trying to run small rural businesses in places such as Gortin, Greencastle in mid-Tyrone, Castlederg, the Glenelly valley and even in the glens of Antrim, Fermanagh, south Armagh and the Mournes have not seen broadband improvement in many years. I have come to understand that DETI has been spending a significant amount of money to rectify this problem, but it has not reached West Tyrone, or at least not in a tangible way just yet.
This Budget has within it many more problems than infrastructure. There is no breakdown of the education budget of £1·9 billion, of which some state they are very proud. There are cuts to student support, library services, museums and public services across the North. The west will ultimately feel the brunt, once again, of these cuts. In West Tyrone, the past 10 years have ushered in the closure of rural schools, urban schools, post offices, and rural banks and businesses — the shutdown and isolation of rural communities.
In health, social care services have been dwindling to such an extent that 15 care packages for the elderly have become the norm. People are concerned about this gradual erosion of services and neglect of the west.
Therefore, returning to the Budget, it is important that those services are given appropriate consideration by the Executive because it is clear that, so far, they have not. The Budget before us today does not offer that support. It adds to the depressing reality in my constituency, and although there is the promise of this big flagship project of the A5, which my party is in total support of, will it really happen beyond this election? Is it another election promise by some parties? That is the question on the doorsteps. People have lost faith in this House. It is a one-year Budget not properly scrutinised and passed; it has been passed by accelerated passage. This is not the budgetary system that will restore economic balance between the west and the rest of the North.
I begin by congratulating Mr McCrossan on his maiden speech, not just because it is the proper tradition to do so but because it was a particularly well-crafted and equally well-delivered speech, and he spoke with very tenacious affection for his constituency. I think that many of us recall the service of his predecessor, Mr Joe Byrne, in his unassuming way. I think that many of us would like to join in wishing him well in his retirement.
Turning to this Budget, when I pick up a Budget Bill and read through it and look for some of the headline figures, there are always some things that strike me. One of the figures that struck me again was in clause 2(2) of this Budget, where we read that, in this current financial year, Northern Ireland has the benefit of resources of over £17 billion. It always causes me to pause and to ask: where does that money come from? Of course, the answer to that question, that some would rather not hear or face up to, is that that £17 billion comes as a direct consequence of our membership of the United Kingdom. It is because we are an integral part of the United Kingdom, entitled to share in its burdens and its riches, that we have that quantity of money at our disposal. For those who chase various constitutional moonbeams about alternative constitutional arrangements, one fact that they never like to face is where the money would come from. It is patently obvious that the benefits to Northern Ireland of being part of the United Kingdom, as reflected in the monetary settlement year-on-year, are colossal. I think that all citizens in Northern Ireland should reflect on that and be grateful.
I carried out a little exercise by looking at last year's Budget Bill because I wanted to see just where the variations were; where the uplifts were; and whether there were any telltale signs of why the uplifts were in respect of different Departments. The one that particularly caught my eye was DRD. In schedule 3 of this Budget, we have the sums granted for the upcoming year, 2016-17. If we go back and compare that to the comparable figure in last year's schedule 3, we discover that the Department for Regional Development has had a whopping 33% increase — £134 million extra. If you go to schedule 4, you will discover that resources for this year are an extra £107 million. How, or why, would that be?
Is it the hand of politics in this Budget? Could it be that, now that courtesy of IRA murder the DRD is held by the DUP, the idea of starving another Minister of funding is no longer appropriate and that, suddenly, largesse is the order of the day? Could it be that an upcoming election could also be a contributor to that? I find it rather striking; when you compare last year's Bill with this year's, that is something that jumps out at one quite significantly.
Other things that are obvious in this Budget include the extra money poured into welfare and to attain the so-called Fresh Start Agreement. Yes, of course, it was indeed a very significant climbdown by Sinn Féin from its promise that no one, whether a new or existing claimant, would ever suffer under welfare, but also a very significant diversion of funds that would otherwise have been available for health, education and other necessary expenditures. It was a very significant diversion from other aspects of the block grant into supporting welfare supplements, so that the Minister could sing off the same hymn sheet as Sinn Féin on welfare. Not everyone will know this, but the Minister has some claim to accomplishment in the singing stakes himself. He is not unknown for his singing talents and, indeed, he has, I understand, an O level in music. That is more than I have, I have to say, but he is well equipped to sing off the same hymn sheet on this particular issue.
Where it really strikes me as bizarre is that there is money for that, but when you look at the issue of economic inactivity in Northern Ireland, as we heard earlier today — I think it was from Mr McCrea — we are the worst performing region. We have the highest level of economic inactivity. Last March, the Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Farry, brought forward a strategy to tackle economic inactivity. Here we are, 12 months on and looking forward to another 12 months, and that strategy remains unresourced in this Budget. So we are finding money to prop up, sustain and supplement welfare benefits, but when it comes to the idea of dealing with our high level of economic inactivity and encouraging more people from being economically inactive to being economically active, there is not a penny piece in this Budget for the strategy to address economic inactivity. That, I think, is a gross failing.
Does the Member agree with me that the words "economically inactive" could also be described as "gainfully unemployed", as some of them are, I think, on the OFMDFM Committee? One looks at all the strategies that remain on the shelf — the racial equality strategy, the sexual orientation strategy and, another example, the childcare strategy. I am sure that he heard the earlier scaremongering tactics of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who suggested that all those people would be unemployed under OFMDFM if the SDLP had the audacity to suggest that £880,000 could come from their very well-resourced administration budget to pay for childcare costs.
I do not know how gainfully unemployed they are, because I am not quite sure what they are gaining — or, certainly, what the community is gaining — in consequence of their contribution, but, yes, there may be many strands to that. It is a flaw that there is this lack of focus on dealing with economic inactivity and that it is not thought important enough to resource in this Budget. That is a major failing, and it maybe tells us quite a lot.
We all understand that Budgets set down figures and that, as the year progresses, those figures become quite flexible and are adjusted as we go through various phases. However, it is instructive, towards the end of the financial year, after the exercise that was done yesterday on the spring Supplementary Estimates, to look at how some funding has been supplemented. I found it interesting, for example, that the North/South Ministerial Council required an uplift of 21·5% over the original money set aside for it. I looked for, but of course did not find, what the British-Irish Council, the poor relation, might have required. It seems to run on fresh air; but not the North/South Ministerial Council. Here is another 21·5% over what we were going to give it.
Then, I looked at the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation. If ever there was a quango that seemingly does nothing because of the dysfunctional logjam in OFMDFM — where Sinn Féin blocks any development of the opportunity that is the Maze site — this is it. Yet, this year it required a 21·5% uplift in its allocation. Why? What is it doing? More of the economically inactive or the gainfully unemployed, perhaps. What is the Maze /Long Kesh Development Corporation actually doing to warrant more money than it was ever intended to have in that year?
I notice that InterTradeIreland needed a 23·7% uplift. Yet, the resources for skills were reduced, effectively. Of course, in the rush to devolve corporation tax, we have had tunnel vision, as if reducing corporation tax was the answer to all our economic woes. However, very little parallel attention has been given to the very important matter of skills — not just skills for the economically inactive, but skills, generally, for our workforce. This, to me, is a Budget with no vision in that regard.
Then, of course, it is a Budget built upon higher borrowing than ever before in the history of these institutions, to the point where we now have indebtedness of £2·1 billion for this small part of the United Kingdom — a debt burden, not just for this generation, but future generations, growing, and presently at £2·1 billion.
That speaks to me of profligacy and mismanagement in the financial affairs of Northern Ireland.
I thank the Member for giving way. He refers to the debt that the Executive have accrued over recent years: does he not concede that a large proportion of that is a direct result of the voluntary exit scheme? Does he not see the benefit that:
"Each £100 million of borrowing will cost between £3 million and £4 million a year in loan repayments, but will yield annual savings in excess of £50 million"?
Is it not a good thing to have that money available for investment?
I hear what the Member says. He is ever to be relied on to ride to the defence of the Executive. Time will tell whether the voluntary exit scheme turns out to be so beneficial. We certainly know that it is costing a huge amount of money; whether it makes those savings remains to be seen. In the short term, the outlay is very considerable. However, that is only a portion. Long before the voluntary exit scheme or anything else, the graph of the borrowings of this Executive was on a huge upward drive. It has now reached the point where no one seems to care that we are now the most heavily indebted region of the United Kingdom. That is not something to be proud of, and nor is this Budget.
I welcome the opportunity to speak at this stage of the Budget Bill. No one will have missed the fact that our health service has had a very difficult year. Indeed, the last 18 to 24 months have seen a total collapse of even the most routine health waiting targets and key performance indicators. Yesterday, the Assembly approved the Vote on Account and the adjustments through the in-year allocations, and I am glad that the stalemate on welfare reform has at last been resolved. We must not allow some Ministers, however, to fall back on their own propaganda and forget that, while the funding shortfall that ultimately resulted in the disastrous in-year cuts in 2014-15 was £212 million, the welfare penalty accounted for only £87 million of that: the rest came down to the sheer mismanagement of the Executive Budget.
Whilst I welcome the allocation of £40 million emergency funding for elective care for the remainder of this financial year, the Health Minister, not for the first time, got somewhat caught up in his own hysteria by making exaggerated claims about kick-starting the local health service. I have cautioned him before, so I will do it again. His expectation of kick-starting a system that is effectively on its knees needs to be considered with the wider knowledge that, in the 2014-15 financial year, his Department received over £80 million of additional funding but the situation continued to get worse. Indeed, the DUP's first Health Minister of this mandate ended 2013-14 with a deficit of £13·1 million, despite receiving £100 million in monitoring rounds in that year.
The 2011-15 Budget has left a lasting legacy of rushed financial decisions and an abject lack of leadership or strategic planning. It is ironic that the DUP and the current DUP Health Minister were so keen to boast about the Budget deal, even claiming that it was a good deal, with their former leader warning that it was obscene of my colleague Michael McGimpsey to seek additional funds under that agreement. It was stated that no resource expenditure bids in monitoring rounds should have been tabled by the Department of Health at all unless in the event of major and unforeseeable circumstances.
We all know that hundreds of millions of pounds were bid for and received, but it was less a case of unforeseen circumstances and more a case of politicking and stubbornness getting in the way of a fair allocation in the first place. Nevertheless, I accept that the £40 million allocation this year was better than nothing. The fact that official publications from the Health Department confirmed that nearly 400,000 people across Northern Ireland are waiting for treatment, a hospital appointment or a diagnostic test should have been enough to shame the Executive into action. I am sure that I am not alone in the House in writing to the Health Minister daily, on numerous occasions; indeed, I do not envy his mail bag of correspondence on behalf of constituents and their families who have been caught up in the waiting time cycle. I have said in the House before that statistics often mask the pain, fear, hurt and worry that our constituents feel. They have elected us to serve their best interests.
I am sure that none of us needs to be reminded that the longer a patient is forced to wait for a diagnosis or treatment, the more harm they are likely to come to. There is no greater issue facing the Executive or the Assembly right now than the horrendous situation of our hospitals and the inexcusable stress that that puts on patients. That is not even to mention the excellent staff, who are operating in extremely strained circumstances. It is regrettable that it took so long and so many patients to wait in pain for successive Health Ministers to realise that there was a problem and the extent of it. The plain truth is that £40 million will barely make a dent in our current unprecedented waits. However, I hope that it is followed in the next year, hopefully under a new Minister, with a recognition of what needs to be done. I have major concerns in the short term that the savings that the Department is demanding of trusts are putting an already stressed health service under even greater pressure. Those savings put pressure on services, including domiciliary care, that can and will lead to long-term pain and greater long-term financial costs for patient care for our most vulnerable. It is my —
I am glad to hear that, and I am grateful to the Member for giving way. I absolutely agree with her: there are huge challenges in our health service. Obviously, she has been waiting for me to intervene, so she knows the question that I will ask: what steps would she take or where would she get the funding from to address the huge issues that she talks about?
The Member opposite should accept that OFMDFM has failed spectacularly to spend £80 million of the social investment fund. That could have gone into Health. Your previous colleagues roared across the Chamber at Michael McGimpsey, when he was Health Minister, that he had to live within his budget and could not tackle the cost of administration in the health service. When you are pointing at people, you should look at the three fingers pointing back at you.
Thank you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker.
It is my sincere hope that the Department and trusts will be able to work together to deliver the savings in a way that does not compromise the safety of our patients. Of course, as well as approving changes to allocations in this financial year, the Assembly is being asked this week to effectively sign off on a significant proportion of next year's allocation. I understand that essential services need to continue and wages need to be paid, but the fact that, as we stand here today, we know little of the detail is indicative of a Health Department and Minister who believe that they are above scrutiny and accountability.
With an annual budget of almost £4·9 billion, it is simply unacceptable that the Assembly is being asked to approve this without any meaningful detail whatever. It is my fear that, given the obvious failure to address the crisis across our hospitals, we will be standing here this time next year making the same points and expressing the same bitter disappointment on behalf of the constituents who have elected us to serve in their best interests. Before the Minister talks about the additional allocation for next year, which I of course welcome, I ask him not to, because he and I both know that it does not come anywhere close to addressing the increase in demand and other inflation-related increases. So far, from what little we have been able to gather, the Budget does nothing to address what is undoubtedly this Executive's biggest failure.
Before I draw my remarks to a conclusion, I ask the Finance Minister to take on board the will of the House. Just last month, we debated changes to the Fire and Rescue Service. Following that debate, the Assembly resolved that the Health Minister should
"seek Executive approval to ring-fence the NIFRS budget consistent with its front-line service function." — [Official Report, Vol 111, No 3, p57, col 2].
When we talk about patient safety, it is important to remember the service that responds to critical incidents across Northern Ireland every day. They prevent injury and save lives, and without that financial support that critical service is placed at risk and even greater pressure is placed on our health service, not to mention the increased risk of loss of life.
I appreciate that we can often focus on the numbers on the spreadsheet and the statistics on a sheet of paper, but the central argument I make to the Minister, in all sincerity, is this: behind the numbers lie our constituents. They feel and bear the ultimate outworkings of budgets — the successes and the failures — and I ask the Minister, as I know he appreciates the point, to take that on board.
Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, I have just checked with you and your staff about the time that I have to speak and have been informed that there is no limit. So, Members, you are in for a longer sit. However, I will try to be brief.
I want to make one point as I commence. I have heard a lot of criticism about there not being an opportunity to scrutinise. There are Members who could scrutinise it from now until the end of this year, and it would not matter: they would still come up with no solutions or ideas on what they would do differently. They do themselves a disservice. We are in the House for this debate, we were here yesterday and we will be back again as the Bill progresses: that is the process of scrutiny. It is not perfect — I see that the Member is perturbed by that comment — given the circumstances, but Members have been able to raise their concerns in relation to the Budget over the last number of hours.
I want to try to make some progress with responses to those issues that, I trust, will give some clarity to Members. I will not dispel all their concerns, worries and fears, but, as Minister of Finance and Personnel for the Northern Ireland Executive, I am glad that we are in this position as we progress the Budget, compared with where we could have been a number of months ago. We all need to take some cognisance of the fact that we are in a better place. However, there is much more to be done.
As I said last night, it will be interesting for the electorate and the voters who are watching this debate and the debates in the days to come to see what happens with the parties that have said we should have spent the money on this or that issue. We will see whether those parties are in government or in opposition. I have to say, however, that I read some of the comments that were made in the document that was published yesterday by the Ulster Unionist Party. They still have not made up their mind about whether they will be in government or in opposition, and they say that good government does not mean that everyone has to be part of the Government. I am sure that that will go down well when they go to canvass at the doors in the next number of weeks and months.
Let me move on to what the Members have raised, beginning with the Chair of the Committee. Again, I thank the Committee for the help that it has given in the process. I welcome the positive contributions that it has made to the Budget process. I am aware of the correspondence that the Member, rightly, raised — the memorandum of understanding between the Assembly and the Executive on the Budget process. I want to make it very clear that we are making progress. I am keen to ensure that that progress is continued so that we have something of substance, even before the end of this mandate. That is a commitment that I want to honour. I want to get to a place where we have a satisfactory conclusion to the matter. It has gone on for a period, and I would like to see some progress being made on it.
The Member also raised the business rates review. The review has concluded, and we are now considering what is to be the way forward. I will comment further on that when I meet representatives from the CBI later this week. I want to ensure that we begin to have a debate around the best way in which we can move the process forward. I will listen to the concerns. In my previous role as Minister for Social Development, I was always very conscious that a consultation should not merely be a process of going out to hear having already agreed a predetermined outcome, and I reiterate that as the Minister of Finance. If a consultation is to mean anything, it will genuinely take on board the issues that are raised on the matter that is being consulted on, and the issues will be listened to and responded to in a positive way. I look forward to trying to bring some clarity to that issue in the next number of days and in the weeks ahead.
The Chair also raised the issue of wider fiscal powers. Of course, the Executive's top priority has been to seek an agreement, which we have secured, on the transfer and use of rate-setting powers for corporation tax. That remains the Executive's top priority in relation to the devolution of additional fiscal powers. In that regard, the Executive's intentions are clear. They are committed to introducing to Northern Ireland the corporation tax regime from April 2018 at a rate of 12·5%.
Of course, Members will also be aware that we are considering the case for devolving other fiscal powers where doing so would deliver a clear economic or social benefit for Northern Ireland. The impact that devolution would have on the Executive Budget and, therefore, the provision of public services is also a key factor there. You will recall that we recently sent correspondence to the Finance Committee about the issue. I reiterate the comments of my predecessor, Mr Hamilton, that preface that document. He set out two key conditions in considering whether the devolution of additional taxation powers should be sought by the Executive. The first was affordability: the devolution of a tax or duty and the change from the UK policy must not impose a disproportionate burden on the funding available for public services. Secondly, the devolution of a tax or duty and a change from UK policy should be expected to result in a defined economic and social benefit to the people of Northern Ireland.
Those remain the issues for me on how to address wider fiscal powers.
That, of course, covers a point that was made by a Member, which is that we need to preface all this by saying, "Let us, as Members of the House, remember where our funding comes from". There are Members who want to cut off any association with Her Majesty's Treasury. When it comes to convincing the people of Northern Ireland, since its creation in 1921 until the present day, that we should move anywhere other than the United Kingdom, they have failed to do so. That money comes from the Treasury. That needs to be a reality check for all of us because the amount of money that would come from any other source is not available and is certainly not forthcoming within the current arrangements.
The Member also raised the issue — rightly so — of our constituency of North Antrim and the ongoing employment challenge with the loss of Michelin and JTI. Those are concerns for us as local representatives, for me as the Finance Minister and also, I trust, for the Executive. They remain a challenge and issue not only for Ballymena but for other areas across Northern Ireland. We outlined that we are always aware of the impact of job losses on individuals. It is very clear. It is very easy to come to the House and just repeat words. We always need to remember that, behind every announcement of job losses, there are individuals, families and communities who suffer.
As far as corporation tax is concerned, research suggests that the potential benefit to the economy of Northern Ireland would be the creation of well in excess of 30,000 additional jobs and economic growth of an additional 10% over 15 years. Those figures cannot be ignored or just set aside. That is why our attention should focus on this tool to ensure that we put Northern Ireland in the best place to be the beneficiary of the introduction of corporation tax.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Clearly, there is not one of us who would not welcome the prospect of 30,000 new jobs, but the quality of those new jobs is important. That goes to the very point that he makes about sustainability. In that context and with this Budget, surely it is a contradiction that we are not funding the education places that would provide us with more highly skilled people to attract higher-paid jobs to fulfil the corporation tax ambition as he outlined.
Yet again, the Member is selective in what he wants to deal with. He has completely ignored the fact that an additional £25 million is going into skills. He just ignores the fact that we recognise the skills issue and are trying to deal with it with that £25 million. Let me also say this: he overlooks the fact that the economy of Northern Ireland is now becoming diverse, with a focus on new skills, technologies, opportunities and job creation. In fact, yesterday, in his constituency, we were able to announce the creation of an additional 88 jobs, with an average salary of £44,000. The Member can try to be dismissive of that, but I have to say that, yesterday, when I was speaking to the company's chief executive, who is from Houston in the United States of America, a story was relayed of a student who left Northern Ireland, went to England to be educated and, as a result of the company's locating in Belfast, had come back to south Belfast, to their home and to their local community, and is now employed. We want to encourage more of that and want to see it develop. The Member clearly wants to pick and choose what he focuses his attention on, and he dismisses the fact that £25 million for skills to prepare us for lower corporation tax is no small investment.
His colleague Claire Hanna referred to the women's childcare centre. I do not want to take away from my colleague the Minister for Social Development, but all that I will say is watch this space. We will not be doing what was suggested by her party and taking £800,000 out of the victims' sector and putting it into that.
We have listened to the argument. Mrs Kelly knows that, when I was the Minister for Social Development, I took the decision to extend the funding for another year. I said that there was a challenge to the funding. However, we will see about that very soon.
If I continue to speak for this length of time and we go past midnight, we might be into tomorrow, and you never know what tomorrow will bring on that issue. I do not want to steal the thunder. The two Members are getting very exercised. Ms Hanna can go first and then Mrs Kelly.
I am sure that you have other points to respond to. Does the Minister agree that, as I said, one Committee session is not sufficient to provide scrutiny? The Member asked for alternatives. We have proposed one, and, if you check the record, you will see that it was not to remove £800,000 from the victims and survivors fund. I pointed out that OFMDFM's bloated £14 million administration fund was more than that provided for victims and survivors in total and said that that is the fund from which we hope you will take money to put into childcare. Does the Minister agree that it is not appropriate for us to provide this scrutiny live in the Chamber just before the Budget is being voted on and that it would have been more appropriate to provide that level of detail for all sections of the Budget?
I remind the Member that this is a political process. This is the Chamber that we are elected to, and, therefore, I have no difficulty having the conversations and the debate on these issues. I think that that is where we should have the debate. Would I want to have more information? Yes. Would we have liked to have been able to have done this without using accelerated passage? Yes. However, for the reasons that we have repeated again and again and again, we have had to do what we have had to do. It seems as though some Members want to ignore that and still say, "But you should have more time, more scrutiny and more attention given to the detail".
I thank the Minister for giving way. There is absolutely no way that I doubt his sincerity about the childcare fund. He did put his hand in his pocket last year, but that should not rely upon emergency funding year-on-year.
On your latter point, Minister, I do not want to let it pass without saying that the reason why we will have to have such late sittings over the next few weeks is because Sinn Féin stopped the Executive from meeting for three years over Maze/Long Kesh and the DUP then had a go-slow for several months after the murder of Mr McGuigan. The Minister has —
I thank the Member for her intervention. It is quite obvious that the election campaign has begun. The Member clearly wants to make her point. However, I will reiterate what I have said about the women's childcare fund. I listened when I was Minister for Social Development. I believe that the current Minister has listened. I have listened as Minister of Finance, and I urge Members to wait to see what will happen in the next number of hours.
I thank Mr Cree for the way that he approaches these issues. He raised a number of questions, and I want to try to deal with them. He mentioned industrial derating. In 2015-16, 4,437 properties have benefited from industrial derating as of 31 December 2015, and I have given a commitment about that continuing. A total of £59·7 million has been allocated to date in 2015-16.
That, again, is a delivery commitment that we welcome. My colleague referred to the empty shops rate concession. A total of 525 properties have benefited from that since it was introduced in April 2012. Over that period, £2·2 million was allocated as at 31 December 2015.
He queried the use of RRI borrowing. An important point is that the Executive can borrow up to a limit. We do not necessarily have to borrow the full amount, which means that we will draw down only the RRI borrowing that we actually need. In 2016-17, for example, the Executive have an additional £200 million of borrowing available for the voluntary exit scheme. That issue was raised and explained very well by my colleague from East Antrim. However, the Executive did not believe, on current projections, that the full amount will be required. That is why, in the Budget for 2016-17, we allocated £25 million of that facility for capital projects instead. Of course, my officials will keep the position under review and suggest changes if required during the next year's monitoring process.
He also raised Atlantic Philanthropies' £55 million investment, which was announced by the First Minister and deputy First Minister in 2014. That joint investment will deliver improved services to parents, shared education, and support for people with dementia and their carers. I am pleased that the Executive were able to make an allocation of £8 million in the 2016-17 Budget towards those very worthwhile interventions. Further funding requirements will be considered as part of the next Budget process.
Mrs Cochrane and other Members commented on the reform of the health service, and they continue to be critical of issues. My colleague the Health Minister is endeavouring to undertake a very difficult and challenging role. I do not think that any Member would take away from the real challenges to our health service. However, the Health Minister is seeking to address some of those problems. He announced a number of key reforms on 4 November in terms of structural changes and the creation of a panel to make recommendations on the configuration of services. He also gave a commitment to the transformation fund. The review of commissioning concluded that Northern Ireland's commissioning system is not as effective as it should be. The Health Minister is, therefore, seeking to delayer the system to remove the complexities in a way that brings greater accountability and responsiveness.
The Minister also announced a panel to lead on the debate on the best configuration of health and social care services in Northern Ireland. Those all continue to be issues that Members will welcome. In the debate in the public domain in the last number of days, we were told that that issue was depoliticised, although I am not so sure that it was in Manchester. You have to remember that there was a legal challenge, so it was not just as clean-cut as maybe some were trying to make out.
We had an opportunity, as a five-party mandatory coalition, to show political consensus. But what happened? Well, one party decided, "Enough of that. It's getting too close to the election and we'll decide to do the best possible Pontius Pilate exercise and get out of the tent." Another party decided, "It doesn't suit us now. We'll vote against the Budget." Then we have another party that decided, "We're never going to accept any Budget but we'll still stay in the Executive and still be beneficiaries." So, we had an opportunity to have collective responsibility in determining health budgets but it seems as though three parties — two that are still in the Executive and one that has left — decided, "No, that's not a good idea but we'll still say it's what we want to do." It is time that they made up their mind.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Will he accept that, yes, we did have a consensus and that, yes, we did have an opportunity to maximise the political will that existed around the House over the future of health but that that was in 2011 when the DUP took over Health and also had Finance and was also in OFMDFM but failed singularly to put sufficient funds behind the Transforming Your Care plan, which would have made a huge difference to our overall health service if fundamentally implemented? You had the consensus and you failed.
Again, I think that the Member needs to be reminded that almost half of the Budget in Northern Ireland goes to Health. He does the service a disservice, and other Members do the health service a disservice by the way, sometimes, they continue to talk it down. I am a recipient of the health service in that I use it. We all are beneficiaries of a service that is free at the point of delivery. It is something that we have continued to protect and have continued to cherish, and I think that we cannot just talk about this in a glib way — and I know that the Member is not being glib, so I will not use that word — or in a way that sometimes does not give due respect to the fact that we spend 50% of the Budget on our health service. I will give one more intervention because I know that Members want to get home.
I thank the Minister for his indulgence. I go back to the point I made earlier. This is not just about the maximum amount of money or the percentage of the money that is allocated to Health. It is about how that money is spent, and we know that there is massive wastage in the system. There is £50 million spent on bank and agency staff, and there is £40 million spent on sickness. Major percentages can be saved out of overprescription. Those are the issues that are at the heart of this system.
I appreciate that the Minister has made the point that I am not being glib, because I have drilled down into this issue for two-and-a-half years. It all comes back to the point that the DUP failed fundamentally to invest in a Transforming Your Care plan that wanted money shifted left so that there would be investment in the community and we would not have what Transforming your Care predicted, which was haphazard change. Unfortunately, the failure to plan has led to that haphazard change, which is why we are experiencing the huge queues in elective care, with 400,000 people waiting for operations and appointments.
In response, despite all our efforts and despite all the agreements that we sought to have on the Budgets, the SDLP still sought to have a position where it voted against every Budget. I think that that is what the people of Northern Ireland need to remember, and that is what they need to keep a focus on when it comes to determining who were the best custodians of public finances in Northern Ireland.
Let me move on to other comments and try to make progress on some other issues that Members raised. The issue of the A6 Randalstown to Castledawson upgrade and the other flagship projects was raised. Like Mr McCrea, I am pleased to see that the Executive are committed in their 2016 Budget to taking forward the upgrade of the A6 road linking Belfast and Londonderry, including the dualling of the Randalstown to Castledawson section. The A6 Randalstown to Castledawson dualling scheme is a significant project that will help to remove a very major bottleneck and so improve safety and journey times on what is a strategic and very important route in Northern Ireland.
Ms Hanna asked about the A6 and the other flagship projects. She wanted to know how they would be funded over their lifetime. If she looks at the Executive Budget for 2016-17, a document that I know she has a copy of, she will see that it sets out the Executive's funding commitment to all seven flagship projects right up to 2021. This was done specifically to provide Departments with funding certainty for that period.
So, I do not think that we can be accused of doing little on the commitment given to the flagship projects. We have not been making false promises. Those projects have been clearly committed to, and moneys have been set and allocated alongside them. So, I do not see how you can interpret that as yet another false promise that will not be delivered.
I know that the issue of the A5 was raised, and I may come back to it. The Member will hear very soon about progress on the A5; in fact, maybe I will deal with it now. I concur with what some others said about the Member's maiden speech. It is always a daunting task to speak in the House on any occasion, no less for the first time, and I commend the Member for that. As I have already said to him, I look forward to working with him as a Member of the House. I think that we need to be clear about the figures so that there is no confusion. The Executive have committed to invest £230 million in the A5 and a further £260 million in the A6 over the next five years. I have to say that, if that is not a commitment on a substantial capital project, I do not know what is.
The Member mentioned broken promises. I think that we also need to remember that a judicial review stopped the process, which the Member will be well aware of. He should also take some heart from the investment made in the Lisanelly project in Omagh. A substantial amount of money is being invested in the education of young people in that locality, and we look forward to seeing the benefits as the project is rolled out.
My colleague the Chair of the Education Committee Mr Weir made some comments about the Department of Education. There is clearly cause to ramp up skills through investment. We have raised the issue of corporation tax, and a key component part of that is our education system. I have already put on record my support for an additional £20 million to address pressures in our schools, which, I think, will be welcome. I want to pay tribute to our education providers who do an outstanding job. I see that the Minister is in the House. He should not take that as an endorsement of him because he knows that, at this time of night, my generosity might not extend that far. I have listened to the concerns raised about the pressures that are there, and I have no doubt that the Minister, under my good guidance, will make an announcement on that in some detail shortly.
I thank the Minister for his engagement and that of his officials on the matter. Indeed, I thank the Executive parties that are engaging on Budget issues. This shows that, when you commit yourself to engagement on the Budget, you can make real change, even at this late stage. So, I want to put on record my thanks to the Finance Minister and to the Executive for the additional £20 million for Education.
Members should take note that the Education Minister and I started out as members of the Education Committee, so if you want to succeed in your political career, maybe you should go onto the Education Committee. Maybe Dolores Kelly, who is now on the Education Committee, can look forward to returning to the Executive if the SDLP decides that it does not want to go into isolation — sorry, opposition. Maybe those two things are one and the same; I do not know.
On a serious note, I believe passionately, as, I think, all Members do, in the importance of our education system, but let us be under no illusion that there will not be challenges ahead as we look at our school estate and at the way in which we continue to provide for education. We are all precious about our local schools and other areas in which education is being provided. We have to address certain pressures that are in the system at the moment, but the new Minister of Education, whoever it will be, will face particular challenges for a number of reasons, no less than the issue of our school estate. There will be somewhat more capital available. The situation with capital may not be in the best place, but there is more focus on capital than there is on resource.
Let me move on to dealing with the particular issue that the Chair raised about taking forward a number of the exit schemes. The Department of Education received and approved 195 teacher redundancy applications in 2015-16. The cost associated with those applications was £3·2 million, and the costs were met through funding accrued by the education and library boards — the employing authority — from the 2014-15 Budget. A further 127 applications were approved, at a cost of £5·2 million, which was funding that the Department of Education received from the public-sector transformation fund.
As at 6 January 2016, the Department of Education had received and approved 248 non-teaching, school-based redundancy applications, at a cost of £2·9 million, which was funded from the public-sector transformation fund. The Education Authority initiated its voluntary severance programme in May 2015, and it projects the number of redundancies before the end of the financial year to be 262. The Department of Education has allocated £14 million, which will be funded from the public-sector transformation fund.
The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) also initiated a voluntary exit scheme in 2015-16, and the Department of Education has allocated £1 million for it, which will be funded from the public-sector transformation fund. That, again, is an indication that an attempt is being made to try to address the issue. It has all come about as a result of the public-sector transformation fund, and the Budget document gives some detail on that.
I move on to an issue that was raised by the Chair of the Agriculture Committee, my colleague Mr William Irwin. He mentioned the 5·7% reduction in the budget of the new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. The overall level of funding available to the Executive means that it is inevitable that many of our Departments will face resource DEL reductions in 2016-17. I want to say something on that issue, because it is easy to forget why we are in the position of having to make reductions in the first place. I noticed in today's 'Belfast Telegraph' that we have been given some advice by Mr Johnny Andrews, who is the economy spokesman for the Northern Ireland Conservatives. He tells us all about the problems and challenges, but he never once mentions the fact that it is because of his party that we now have this situation in which there have been reductions. It is all very well to sit in splendid isolation as a member of the Northern Ireland Conservatives and tell us all about what we need to do and the difficulties that we are all going to have, but he makes no reference to the fact that it was his colleagues in Westminster who brought about the situation that created the challenges that we now face. However, we have had to deal with those challenges, and I accept that the budget outcome for the new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs means that some difficult decisions will need to be taken.
I welcome the steps that the Minister has already taken to generate efficiency savings across the Department, but Mr Irwin raised the matter of the £48·8 million capital budget that will be available to the new Department. I am pleased that the Executive were able to make that allocation, which will allow the Department to deliver on its key priorities, including the farm business improvement scheme.
We look forward to seeing that in the future.
He also raised concerns about the cost of bovine TB and the difficulty that that poses to our local economy. I am committed to the vision of a competitive and sustainable livestock sector in Northern Ireland, which, along with the rest of our agriculture sector, helps to support the resilience of the entire food chain. While we cannot lose sight of the negative impact that bovine TB has on our local farmers, we must be cognisant of the cost to the taxpayer, particularly given the current budgetary position. The total cost of TB compensation payments to the end of January 2016 was £13·4 million. There is a clear need to explore all means of eradicating bovine TB, including the modernisation of our compensation regime.
He also referred to Going for Growth, the farm business improvement scheme that I have referred to. In supporting the implementation of the Going for Growth strategy, the Executive have recognised the importance of the agrifood sector. That is a vital sector for the future of the Northern Ireland economy. We all know from our constituencies, and from Northern Ireland plc, the importance of that sector to our economy. The £48·8 million capital allocation provides funding for the Department to implement the farm business improvement scheme, as I have mentioned.
I turn to comments that were made by the Chair of the Health Committee about waiting times and elective care. As I said, my colleague the Health Minister has advised me that the £40 million that he secured in the November monitoring round is being directed at tackling waiting lists, which have been an issue of concern. No one in the House would in any way try to be dismissive of the concerns that we are all well aware of with the challenges in relation to waiting times and the health service. That £40 million was secured in November, and it will benefit some 60,000 or 70,000 patients who would otherwise be waiting. It covers a range of particular specialities including orthopaedics, neurology and ENT. Since November, significant efforts have been made across the health system within a very tight framework to secure additional outpatient clinics and treatments within the trusts and to put in place appropriate arrangements with independent-sector organisations to transfer suitable patients for assessment and treatment. It is not the case that that issue is being ignored. We are endeavouring to do what we can to help to deal with the particular challenge that we face.
Mr McKinney raised the issue of the health black hole and asked where the budget allocation for health will be spent. The Health Minister has clearly stated that the additional money for health in 2016-17 will be directed towards front-line health and social care services. Reform across health and social care is ongoing, and I remind Members — I have said it repeatedly — that Transforming Your Care is not about reducing our investment in health and social care services; it is about making the best use of the resources available. That is the point that the Member was encouraging us to make about the overall Budget in how we address that issue. The Member criticised the delivery of Transforming Your Care, but we need to be reminded that, of the 99 recommendations in TYC, 50 have been completed and 46 are ongoing. It is not a case of it being yet another document that is sitting around and nothing being done with it, which is a point that I will come to in a moment or two in relation to comments made by Mrs Kelly. Proactive action is being taken.
I want to respond to the issues that were made by Mrs Sandra Overend, a member of the Education Committee. She asked about the public-sector transformation fund, and I have given some detail on that in response to my colleague the Chair of the Committee. I can confirm that the Department of Education was allocated a total of £70·7 million for the exit schemes, broken down as £47·3 million for the teaching workforce and £23·4 million for the non-teaching staff. There is no further funding for these schemes, and, if the Minister wishes to fund any further schemes, he will need to find that money from his own baseline.
The Member also asked how pension and National Insurance pressures will be funded. I can confirm that the pension pressures were covered in the financial year through allocations in the June monitoring round. These allocations will be baselined to carry through to future years, so it is not a case of them being a one-off. The additional National Insurance pressure will have to be covered from within the departmental budget. There is no funding set aside at the centre to cover it. I trust that that gives some clarity
I want to comment now on an issue raised about funding for the environment. Again, I have to say to Members that, going through all these comments, it is clear that we have a wide variety of issues and significant demand on the public purse to try to cover as many as we find to be important. As a member of the Environment Committee, Pam Cameron expressed the importance of funding for that sector. With the exception of built heritage, the Environment function will transfer as one block to the new Department. The Member will remember that, at the start of the 2015-16 financial year, the Minister of the Environment slashed funding to a lot of environmental groups, unnecessarily as it turned out, only to reinstate it in the latter part of the year. Maybe we all need to learn that lesson on how not to deal with your budget. I believe that the consolidation of the environment function with other rural matters in the new Department will be good for Northern Ireland's environment.
In conclusion, I want to —
In eight hours of Budget debate, we have had only one proposal from our colleagues in the SDLP on what they would do differently: they would raid the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister of £800,000. They are telling us tonight that they would not take that from the Victims and Survivors Service. As Minister of Finance, can you tell us how many jobs would go if we were to take £800,000 out of the OFMDFM budget and whether the unions have been consulted on that? It seems that there are to be no redundancy payments for this as there are no costs attached. Is that unprecedented, and have you any idea where this idea came from? Unless I missed something, it just does not add up. Are there any other great ideas about what they would do differently?
This just confirms my earlier comment that the election campaign has begun. The Member raises a particular issue that may need to be addressed by his colleagues sitting alongside him on the other side of the House. If that amount of money had been taken out, it would undoubtedly have resulted in a reduction in employment and other pressures. We were in a position in which it was not tenable to do that in that way, so the economics of the party that suggested it have been proven to be flawed. I will allow Mrs Kelly the opportunity to respond.
Thank you, Minister, for allowing me to come back to explain to Mr Ó Muilleoir where the money would come from and how we would do it. It looks like it is a very sore point with Sinn Féin that it was prepared to let the women's childcare centres close so that it could unnecessarily inflate the administration budget of an already over-inflated Department under a Sinn Féin/DUP authority.
That is more material, no doubt, for manifestos and quotes.
I want to address Mrs Kelly's point.
You are all starting to get very exercised. It seems as if you have no homes to go to. I want to reiterate something. I hope that it was down to confusion on the Member's part when she talked about documents that have not seen the light of day and that these documents have been produced, and we do not know where they are. She mentioned the racial equality strategy, but it has been agreed and published, and it is on the Department's website. That is not being secretive; that is not trying to hide anything. The children's strategy has also been published. I do not mind being criticised when we have not done something, but, when we have done something that is out there in the public domain, maybe the Member should give some credit and think about whether she got it wrong on this occasion.
The problem is that the SDLP has no alternative Budget. Most oppositions have an alternative Budget to put before the people. Indeed, I long for the days a couple of years ago when the SDLP came forward with a proposal to sell an airport that we did not even own. Perhaps that is the real reason why we are not seeing an alternative Budget, because, the last time the SDLP brought one forward, it had proposals to sell assets that we did not even have.
No doubt that is more material for manifestos, press releases and all that. That is an issue for the Member.
I will conclude by addressing an issue —
— do not encourage me — which is that we ignored young people who are not in full-time employment or training. Again, we do ourselves a disservice in that we ignore the fact that some €37 million has been secured from DEL and from ESF match funding, which will aim to provide 10,000 places. That is significant and is an investment in our unemployed and economically inactive. It should not be dismissed.
We were accused of playing politics with the Budget. Would it not be an awful thing if politicians did something political? Would it not be awful that we would be involved in such a thing? Let me explain — I think that I did explain, but the Member who made the allegation was not listening or was not present, and he is not present now. The reason for the increased Vote on Account for the Department for Regional Development is to provide it with the cover to take on the additional functions that it will inherit when it becomes the Department for Infrastructure in May after the elections. The Member implied that that is something to do with the party to which the Minister belongs.
As I explained, a number of Departments will take on new functions because of the reduction from 12 Departments to nine, where a similar increase has been needed, and the amounts are being made available in the Vote on Account, including for DARD, which is not a Department that any of my colleagues lead. I need to reiterate that the Vote on Account does not set a Department's budget for the year; it is simply a mechanism to allow a Department to keep carrying out its functions until such time as the Assembly considers the Main Estimates and the Budget Bill for 2016-17.
I am glad that I can recommend the Budget to the House, and I ask that the Assembly approves the Budget that is before it tonight.
Before we proceed to the question, I would advise Members that, as this is a Budget Bill, it requires cross-community support.
Question put. The Assembly divided:
Mr Boylan, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Mr Hazzard, Mr G Kelly, Mr Lynch, Mr McAleer, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McKay, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr Ó Muilleoir, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Ms Ruane
Mr Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Mr Buchanan, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mr Craig, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McQuillan, Mr Middleton, Mr Moutray, Mrs Pengelly, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells
Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dickson, Ms Lo
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr G Robinson, Mr Ó Muilleoir
Mr Attwood, Mr Dallat, Mr Diver, Ms Hanna, Mrs D Kelly, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McKinney, Mr A Maginness
Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Mr Beggs, Mr Cochrane-Watson, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Hussey, Mr Kennedy, Mr McCallister, Mr B McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Mr Nesbitt, Mrs Overend, Mr Patterson, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann
Tellers for the Noes: Mr McCrossan, Mrs Overend
|Nationalist Votes||36||Nationalist Ayes||26||[72.2%]|
|Unionist Votes||49||Unionist Ayes||33||[67.3%]|
|Other Votes||4||Other Ayes||3||[75.0%]|
Question accordingly agreed to. Resolved (with cross-community support):
That the Second Stage of the Budget Bill [NIA 77/11-16] be agreed.
The Business Committee agreed that the House would not sit late into the night but should suspend and resume at 10.30 am tomorrow, if necessary, to finish business on today's Order Paper. This would seem to be a convenient moment at which to suspend. The first item of business when we return tomorrow will be a statement from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development followed by the Consideration Stage of the Justice Bill.
The sitting was suspended at 10.32 pm.