Budget Bill: Second Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 9:30 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 9:30 pm, 9th February 2016

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.