Health and Social Care: Budgets

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:45 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance 1:45 pm, 16th January 2017

1. Ms Bradshaw asked the Minister of Finance whether he plans to reconsider allowing for three-year budgets in the health and social care sector. (AQO 875/16-21)

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas fosta ar an Chomhalta as an cheist sin a chur orm. I believe that today the addresses move into matters political, so I look forward to seeing my colleague on the doorsteps of South Belfast shortly.

To return to the question: the health and social care budgets are controlled by the Department of Health, and its budget is subject to the same annual controls as other Departments. That approach reflects the controls placed on the Executive’s Budget by the British Treasury. In that regard, it would not be possible to provide separate arrangements for the health and social care sector without considering what impact that might have on other public services.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

The core grant funding of health and social care organisations, which your Department provides, was cut by 25% in this financial year. Given the fact that the innovation fund was not brought forward in this financial year, will that 25% be reinstated?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her supplementary question. It is my intention that, whatever plans and direction of travel we have, we continue in the time ahead. I know that there has been an interest among Members to revise entirely the way we approach matters financial and budgetary. We have certainly delayed that opportunity now. I pledge to the Member that having the best systems for funding the health service is my interest and desire as well. We are locked into a system where we have to have the same approach right across all our areas.

In relation to the specific area of concern, I am happy that you bring that forward and we can discuss it further. Contrary to speculation, my demise has been much exaggerated. I will be here for the next five weeks and, if there are particular issues in your constituency or issues of particular interest, I am happy to tackle those in the time ahead, despite the obvious disruption that we are all encountering.

Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP

No matter what we say, nothing will be able to accurately reflect the level of outrage that should be expressed at the fact that waiting times are tragically causing patients to come to harm. Does the Minister agree that even the planned single-year Budget for 2017-18 would still cause immense uncertainty and unsustainability for the health service?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

I am tempted to take over the job of the Health Minister, but I will not at this stage. However, I will defend the concept of having a one-year Budget. It was the path that the Scottish Government went down as well, because of the many winds that blew against our sails before Christmas and, in particular, Mr Hammond's November statement. That said, as we move into the next period, it is very evident — I am sure that the Member shares this view; it is shared, I think, by every Member of the Assembly, regardless of political affiliation — that we need to have a system of health transformation here. We need to take the politics out of health and enter into a complete step change. It is unfortunate that we are now into a period where the institutions are coming down so that the public can have its say on matters wider than that. However, I think that the essential point you make is not really about the nature of the one-year or multi-year Budget, but the fact that we are all agreed that there needs to be a transformation of the health service.

I am going to stop now, because I am sounding a bit like the Health Minister.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a fhreagraí go dtí seo. Following Mrs Dobson's question, does the Minister agree that the chaos that has engulfed the Executive and Assembly means that there is no certainty for the healthcare sector, those providing care and those waiting for it? How does he envisage the double running of the healthcare system to ensure that the transformation of the healthcare system that we are all crying out for takes place?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt don Chomhalta as Doire as an cheist sin a chur, ach i gcionn leathuair a chloig nó mar sin beidh an tAire Sláinte anseo. I think the Health Minister will be here in around 40 minutes. I do not know whether the LeasCheann Comhairle will let me stray into matters political, never mind matters health. The broader point is that we are here today because of the steps that the DUP took. They took a series of actions and steps that undermined confidence in these institutions. The reason we are in a political impasse — the reason we cannot have the proper running of all our Departments and cannot implement the ambitious plans we have — is that triple whammy from the DUP of breathtaking arrogance, allegations of corruption surrounding many, many spheres of their influence, including Red Sky, NAMA and now RHI, and, of course, as the Member from Derry will understand, because he has asked many questions on issues around the north-west, the fact that our former partner in government has not committed to the power-sharing or equality agenda.

The Member, I suppose, had a choice, agus níl a fhios agam cad é an rogha a ghlacfadh sé. We had a choice, immediately after the new year, to allow Arlene Foster to remain in post or to force her out of post so that the public could have their say on the disgraceful actions of the DUP. I am convinced that Martin McGuinness made the right choice and that, when Martin McGuinness said that he could not, any longer, stand behind these institutions that were drained of credibility because of the stance of the First Minister and her colleagues, that was the right decision. No one — the business sector or the third sector — never mind the politicians, likes the fact that we are entering into this period of uncertainty, but I am absolutely clear where the blame lies. Having listened to discussions today, I can see that the lessons have not yet been learned, but the blame lies fairly and squarely with the arrogance, disrespect and commitment to inequality rather than equality of the DUP.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

Before we move on to the next supplementary question, I remind the Minister of the two-minute rule.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly DUP

The Minister will be aware that the Finance Committee met this morning in an emergency meeting to discuss the disgraceful situation facing Departments and public services at this time of having no Budget for 2017-18. The Minister is very good at running around and telling other Ministers and people what they should and should not be doing, but I put it to you that your number one duty as Finance Minister is to produce a Budget. We are facing a situation, due to the resignation of the deputy First Minister, where there will be no Budget. That will have a profound impact on the Department of Health, for example. What contingencies have you, as Minister, in place to prevent that detrimental impact on public services?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

I did not manage to catch the Finance Committee this morning. It is a great pity that my colleagues on the other side of the Chamber did not consider this before Christmas when they became subsumed in covering up RHI and refusing to allow the public to have the investigation they were entitled to. It is a great pity that the DUP did not consider the peril they had placed the institutions in by their persistent and provocative attacks on the Irish language and Irish identity. The events before Christmas, when I met all the DUP Ministers individually and discussed their budgets with them, and when we wanted to go back with a draft Budget to the DUP, were also a great pity. What happened before Christmas? It was not my party that had a former Minister on his knees in a TV studio praying to tell the truth. It was the DUP that became absolutely consumed with RHI, and, of course, discussions since then, unfortunately, have not resumed. So, the blame for where we are today, and the fact that credibility has been drained from these institutions, does not lie with any other party in the Assembly but my colleagues opposite who are represented on the Finance Committee by the Chair who spoke earlier.