Budget 2021-22

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 25th May 2021.

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Debate resumed on amendment to motion:

That this Assembly approves the programme of expenditure proposals for 2021-22 as set out in the Budget laid before the Assembly on 1 April 2021 and the further detailed information laid on 27 April 2021. — [Mr Murphy.]

Which amendment was:

Leave out all after "information" and insert: "provided to Members on 27 April 2021 and laid on 19 May 2021." — [Mr Murphy.]

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

I will just get myself ready. I did not quite expect to have the principal position of being the first Member to speak in this debate this afternoon.

I was thinking about this matter last night when my wife asked me a question. She said, "What is happening tomorrow in the Assembly?". I said that I would be speaking on the Minister's Budget Bill, and she said, "Well, I hope that you are speaking on the Micawber theory of economics". It took me a minute or two to work out what the Micawber theory was, but she reminded me anyway. She said, "It would do the Assembly well to think about the Micawber theory", and she reminded me that the advice came from 'David Copperfield'. Mr Micawber's theory was this:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

In short, if you continue to spend more money than you earn, you will find yourself in serious trouble. To put it even more simply: you have to budget. You would think, in the current climate of the world's economy, that nobody had ever been warned about the dangers of debt. A significant amount of what the Minister has to play with this year comes via debt. It is COVID-19 money that has been borrowed by the Exchequer, and some day it will have to be repaid. It certainly will not be paid by me or a number of others here, but our grandchildren will end up repaying it somehow.

The Minister has presented the Budget and states in his introduction at chapter one:

"This Budget document sets out the Northern Ireland Executive's spending plans for the one year period from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022."

It is now 25 May 2021.

The Minister states:

"the Executive constructed this Budget in a curtailed timeframe, and made difficult choices as the non COVID-19 resources made available are only slightly more than the 2021-22 financial year."

If ever there was a need to think about a three-year timescale when planning a Budget, it is encapsulated in what the Minister said in his introduction. In my latter days as a representative for east Belfast on Belfast City Council, I remember arguing — it was generally accepted, certainly by the senior officers in the council — that the council budget needed to be thought about in a minimum of three-year cycles, and perhaps even three-year to five-year cycles for the more strategic aspects of budget planning.

The Minister also rightly makes the point that his funding sources are the block grant, reinvestment and reform initiative (RRI) borrowing, European Union income, other income that he has not specified and, indeed, specific financial packages. He also highlighted regional rates as a funding source. We all know that the regional rate this coming year and likely next year too is going to be reduced.

In paragraph 3.15, he indicates:

"Changes to the level of funding for the Executive are automatically determined by changes in funding for comparable spending in Whitehall departments."

As other Members mentioned earlier today, we know that Whitehall spending is under critical examination and review. That is likely to have implications for spending potential in Northern Ireland.

I welcome aspects of what the Minister has been able to do within the constraints. I welcome the increase in the Health budget, which is an area that holds a special place in our mind at the moment. The Minister has been able to make £430 million available for the health service from COVID resources. Having got that money, the Assembly needs to think much more about having a strategic spending review. We need to think about reform of our health service. We need to think about the Bengoa report, which is sitting on a shelf gathering dust. We swiftly need to implement many aspects of that document, which, I think, was accepted unanimously by the Assembly a few years ago. It would have been unthinkable if the Minister had not allocated the £430 million to Health to address the situation.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I recognise that we are in a unique time owing to the pandemic, and the struggles that the Minister has had to get the Budget agreed by the Executive after the late announcement of the funding envelope by the Treasury in November. However, I have serious concerns that we rely too heavily on excuses instead of driving forward the significant changes that this place needs.

As a general point, although it is largely outside the control of the Department, the time that was allowed for consultation and scrutiny of the Budget was, obviously, far too short. There also seems to have been limited consideration of issues that were brought by those who were consulted. I notice that action is in the summary, but, surely, that requires more than two thirds of a page. There is a clear lack of detail in the document. We have proposals and total allocations for Departments but, with the exception of some headline announcements, very little is said about what new spending will be funded and how existing spending might change.

I am also concerned about the lack of confirmation of funding for specific proposals in the 'New Decade, New Approach' document. There was progress on some NDNA commitments during 2020. However, there is no clarity about the current status of many commitments, such as action on health waiting lists, developing a regionally balanced economy and driving the delivery of essential infrastructure. One key area of concern is the lack of confirmation on the £25 million for low-carbon transport. The Minister for Infrastructure has done excellent work with a limited budget. However, significant investment is needed to bring forward low-carbon transport in order to tackle the climate crisis.

Even before NDNA, we lacked confirmation of funding from the confidence-and-supply agreement, including £10 million for mental health, £20 million for severe deprivation and £42·3 million for broadband to help those in digital poverty. Last night, I heard of another one of my constituents in Lagan Valley who took their own life. We must not lose focus on the terrible impact of poor mental health in Northern Ireland. That funding must be secured.

There has been a missed opportunity to set a key strategic focus throughout the Budget to increase Northern Ireland's rate of business start-ups, which will be crucial to rebuilding after the economic devastation of COVID-19 and relaying the foundations for economic prosperity. It is very disappointing that there was no move to a multi-annual Budget in the recent UK spending review. That hampers the delivery of long-term strategic objectives, such as creating a culture of entrepreneurship and embedding apprenticeships at the heart of the skills programme. Successful economies promote a culture of innovation and investment in research and development across the business community. That increased productivity, which is the foundation for higher wages, is typically associated with higher-value-added, high-tech sectors like life and health sciences, advanced manufacturing and ICT. However, driving innovation can have huge benefits for the entire community.

Furthermore, it is important for us to lead from the front, push for a dynamic digital government strategy and develop a culture of innovation in the public sector. It is, therefore, concerning that no additional funding is clearly directed towards rebuilding the economy post-COVID. In addition, the Budget lacks a defined budget line for the upcoming skills strategy and long-awaited childcare strategy; both of which will have massive direct and indirect impacts on rebuilding the economy.

In comparison, another £1·3 million has been allocated to the preservation of the Maze site in my constituency, with no engagement on further development from the Executive Office in a year. I raise that point in every Budget debate, and will continue to do so until the economic opportunity of that massive piece of development is realised.

What is probably the best site in all of western Europe is sitting there gathering dust and idle. Shame. Shame.

A key example of the lack of detail in the Budget is that there is no specific mention of funding to help Northern Ireland to achieve its environmental targets. Although it is a long-term issue, tackling the climate crisis will require a response across all Departments, and funding coordination will be integral to achieving that.

Ulster University Economic Policy Centre (UUEPC) research has shown the percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources in Northern Ireland. Our natural assets create an opportunity to develop the renewable energy sector further. As well as delivering environmental benefits, there is the potential to deliver significant economic benefits and create jobs.

However, managing the viability of wind energy is a major challenge. Up to 18% of wind power here is thrown away because it cannot be used at the time that it is generated. That compares with 5% in the Republic. In the first half of 2020, 295 gigawatt hours of wind energy, worth £50 million, was thrown away.

The storage platform for the integration of renewable energy (SPIRE 2) project, which involves academic partners from Ulster University, Dundalk Institute of Technology, the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow and Queen's University, is looking at the potential use of energy storage technologies in people's homes. As part of that project, the rural-led energy transition initiative is aimed at reducing or eliminating the risk of low-income households being left behind by the transition to clean-energy systems. That work could allow up to £100 million a year of clean energy to be used to tackle fuel poverty. Similarly, work should be done to see how that energy could be used for electric vehicles, ownership —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 3:00 pm, 25th May 2021

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

— of which is estimated to increase 100-fold in the next 10 years. Those recommendations must be taken forward in a fully funded energy strategy to prevent Northern Ireland from falling further behind.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. There is no doubt that the financial climate in which we find ourselves is one of the most challenging for many years. COVID-19 has had a very serious impact on many areas of life. Of course, sadly, it has also caused a great cost to life itself, and many families have been plunged into grief following the loss of a loved one to the virus. It has also wreaked havoc across our business community, with many sectors being completely shut down for many weeks and months and many now facing an uncertain future as the lockdown eases and businesses begin to fully reopen.

With those prolonged business closures, there is no doubt that, without the significant central financial input of the Treasury, our journey through the pandemic would have been so much more difficult. Unprecedented levels of support have been offered to our Executive to mitigate the worst aspects of the crisis. That has meant vital cash for businesses to stay afloat and assistance for employees across the Province. Of course, that perfectly illustrates the real benefits of the Union, as we have seen the Chancellor and the Treasury offering unprecedented levels of support across the United Kingdom, with a very clear approach of supporting people in their hour of need. That Treasury support also extended heavily to the maintenance of our network of public services and directly supported many thousands of staff in the public sector at this time of pressure.

With regards to agriculture and the environment, the Budget document rightly refers to the importance of the agri-food sector in supporting around 100,000 jobs and contributing in the region of £5 billion to the local economy. The sector is vital to our economic future post-COVID and must be strategically supported on many fronts in the months ahead.

In recent weeks in the Chamber — indeed, as late as yesterday — we discussed climate change and climate action. In many ways, the agri-food sector is at the centre of that debate. I used those recent opportunities to call for clear thoughts and actions going forward. We must ensure that the actions that are taken to mitigate climate change are proportionate and help to sustain that important sector in Northern Ireland. That is of great importance.

The production of food and the maintenance of the environment is vital to life in Northern Ireland, and it would be foolish to bring forward too much change too quickly. Overambitious measures would serve only to destabilise the agri-food sector and do serious harm to Northern Ireland generally.

It is also vital that future financial support schemes are brought forward in line with any proposed climate action measures to assist farmers in assessing equipment and new ways of working. I welcome the Minister's efforts around green growth and his plans for the planting of 18 million trees in Northern Ireland, targeting climate change. That represents an essential step forward and one that will provide important benefits.

Brexit is another important area, especially for the farming community of which I am a member. As everyone knows, the protocol is never far from the headlines. The imposition of the unworkable protocol has been a total nightmare for agriculture and has meant the most ridiculous hold-ups, costs and procedures for farmers, suppliers, businesses and, indeed, hauliers. Brexit is referred to heavily in the Budget document, and it correctly states that it is one of the most significant changes in the sector for 40 years. Those changes, when taken in the context of moving away from the bureaucracy of the EU system, represent a great opportunity to create a thriving agri-food sector, playing to our strengths. However, that can be achieved only with the rejection of the protocol, and I welcome Minister Poots's commitment to erasing that unhelpful and costly barrier to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom. The righting of the protocol wrong will assist everyone and be of significant assistance to agriculture and many other sectors that are struggling with the nonsensical rules that hamper trade and ramp up costs for businesses and consumers alike. It will also assist in our budgets, where considerable financial resources are being required to operate the despised protocol. The fact that the grace period is quickly coming to an end and the difficulties that exist with having anywhere near the necessary staffing to effectively operate the protocol should be seen as a concerning and looming economic threat that must be dealt with effectively.

Food security is important, and the ability of Northern Ireland to produce high-quality food with the highest traceability standards is a quality that must be protected and enhanced. COVID-19 proved just how resilient our agri-food sector is. It continued to operate at full capacity throughout the pandemic, meeting consumer needs under significant strain. That has to be commended.

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance

I entirely agree with the Member about food quality and the importance of investing in ensuring that. Will the Member also agree that leaving the EU single market would be a retrograde step for food safety and that Northern Ireland needs to remain within that sphere?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I take on board the Member's comments, but I disagree with him in that regard.

Disease eradication continues to be a source of concern, with particular reference to bovine TB. We know just how costly the disease is to farmers and the Department generally. Despite the passage of time, progress remains much too sluggish in that regard, and the result of the current approach is that costs continue to mount and prevalence of the disease remains much too high. What is of further concern is the fact that funding around this area is under huge pressure. That points to an urgent requirement for improvement in eradication policies and practices to bring the disease under control.

The pandemic has certainly taken a toll on finances and financial forward planning, and there is a significant onus on all Departments to ensure that they target their resources effectively and avoid the return of unspent money. In the months ahead, resources will be under scrutiny and strain like never before. We must all do what we can to see resources used to their maximum advantage.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

While we have had a year of considerable challenge due to the pandemic, the focus, quite rightly, was on saving lives, a pathway that Minister Swann was always focused on and never veered off. With the vaccination programme — recognised in Europe as one of the most successful — progressing at pace, with shops and non-essential retail having opened up and with the infection rate declining daily, it is only right that our attention turns to the revival and rebuilding of the rural and urban economy, including our agri-food sector.

During COVID, DAERA had an allocation of £25 million, and I welcome the further £9·8 million secured for further COVID-19 support in 2021-22. Looking at the Budget from a DAERA perspective, it is disappointing to learn that, once again, we have only a single-year Budget. This is not a multi-year Budget, which will be essential as we move forward. Long-term strategic planning is impossible. How can prosperity across Northern Ireland be promoted or a balanced and sustainable agri-food economy achieved when year-on-year cuts to the Budget are being made? DAERA must be equipped to support the agri-food sector, which is so vital to the local economy as it is worth £5 billion and supports in excess of 100,000 jobs. It is disappointing to see that the DAERA budget of £553·8 million has decreased by approximately 3%. DAERA will be one of the lead Departments in working towards the reduction of greenhouse gases and carbon emissions as Northern Ireland progresses its Climate Change Bill. Incentives are needed to encourage change on our farms by using machinery or promoting the green growth approach, which DAERA will be expected to deliver.

With the exit from the EU, it is anticipated that a new future agricultural policy framework will be launched specifically for Northern Ireland in the next year or so. That will bring about change in the basic payment and support for the agricultural economy. It is disappointing to learn that £315·6 million has been allocated for direct payments, which falls short of the £330 million manifesto commitment, meaning that £14·4 million of the projected EU funding for the next year has gone directly to Her Majesty's Treasury. Overall, there is a disappointing shortfall of £19·5 million in EU replacement funding. That will have a profound effect on DAERA's ability to examine new measures in the future Northern Ireland agricultural policy framework.

Of greater concern, however, is the reduction in the funding allocation of £5·1 million for the programme aimed at eradicating TB. That is an essential programme to ensure the well-being of our animals and the quality of the final product.

The capital investment allocations will permit DAERA to continue with many of its projects, including the £95·5 million that it took forward through a priority investment programme, with another £48·1 million for priority investment.

Overall, this is a disappointing Budget for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs at a time when agriculture faces such difficulties with the fallout from the protocol and the greater expenditure needed to prepare for the necessary changes that a climate change Act will bring about.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

As already alluded to, this has been an incredibly difficult year for families and businesses. As we look towards a period of post-pandemic recovery, we are acutely aware of the significance of this Budget and its need to address the economic fallout of the crisis. The Budget, I am afraid, fails to do just that. While we appreciate the significant challenges and unique pressures that have presented this year, there appears to be no vision to tackle the urgent issues facing our society in the aftermath of COVID and beyond. That should be at the forefront of our minds today as we debate the motion.

The Communities Committee was briefed by officials last week, and they laid out the tough reality and blatant failure to deliver key objectives in the Department. As my party's social justice spokesperson, I will focus my remarks on our housing crisis and the dire situation facing our social security system and those dependent on it. All Departments will feel the pinch this financial year, but the impact of unmet bids on the Communities portfolio will reverberate around society, directly affecting the ability of people to weather the storm in a post-COVID landscape.

While I sympathise with Departments — the COVID response has dominated all Departments — I urge Ministers to recognise that the Budget is part of that response. Figures highlighted a 90% increase in universal credit claims last year, a figure that is set to soar further as furlough ends and our businesses face the double challenge of the pandemic and leaving the EU. The Economy Minister has estimated that over 100,000 will be unemployed. The rise in the number of new applicants highlights even more starkly the gaps in current protections. People who currently receive the benefits and the people making their applications now and in future need the certainty and assurance that they will be protected against the sort of system that the Tories would impose on them. The reality is that, under this Budget, they will not be.

The £42·8 million directed at extending welfare mitigations is welcome. However, our Communities Minister had promised a raft of mitigations that have gone unmet in the Budget, including new welfare mitigations; additional payments for carers, those in low-income households and people with a terminal illness; and offsetting the impact of the cruel two-child limit, which affects nearly 3,000 households. It is a frightening prospect that, when need has never been greater and the financial outlook more precarious, people are effectively being left without protections. Consideration must also be given to worsening health outcomes as a result of our awful waiting lists, which will inevitably force more and more people into a benefits system that is already under immense pressure.

It is welcome that the cut to the independent advice sector floated in the draft Budget has been reversed, that the Job Start scheme is going ahead and that recruitment is finally under way to beef up our benefits workforce. However, it is deeply concerning that, other than that, no allocation has been

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New Decade, New Approach. The Budget does not tackle poverty

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We are in the grip

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the full impact of COVID is realised.

A roof over your head is the basis for a healthy life and for cohesive policymaking. There are few areas of public and social policy that housing does not affect, and the housing crisis needs a multifaceted solution. We urgently need to build more social housing to accommodate the thousands of people on waiting lists. Our social housing stock is nowhere near the level that it needs to be. The Executive pledge under the New Decade, New Approach deal to enhance investment in new build social housing is another promise apparently forgotten. Improved social housing must remain a key objective, not just to address the current demand or need but to boost the construction industry and create vital jobs. We also need to look towards a reformed private rented sector and the repurposing of existing stock. None of us can honestly be satisfied with the current rate at which we build social homes.

The absolute minimum that the Executive should be able to guarantee to everyone in the North is a secure and accessible home. Over 29,000 families here are on a waiting list and in acute need of a home. Just this month, the Communities Minister confirmed in response to my Assembly question that over 80,000 people, most with disabilities, are on the social housing waiting list seeking a ground floor property, yet, in the past five years, only 164 bungalows have been built. How, then, can the Finance Minister justify the lack of investment in housing transformation, and what are the potential ramifications of those vital requirements not being met?

Some £6 million has been directed towards Supporting People, which, for the reasons previously outlined, will be a vital provision in the months ahead. Yet that is a COVID-related allocation and represents just half of the required funding. We must also bear it in mind that, even though demand has grown massively, that programme has not experienced an increase in funding in over a decade. It is unforgivable that allocations to date have not reflected the increasing demand for housing support services. In effect, that has failed extremely vulnerable individuals. There is more to tackling homelessness than building homes; we need to tackle the root causes and give people the support that they need.

The most lamentable aspect of the paper before us is the glaring lack of strategic foresight. Prevention is the best cure. The SDLP has appealed for a mortgage support scheme to prevent families losing their home as a result of the economic hardship brought about by the pandemic.

Although Minister Hargey recently assured me that such a scheme is under review, it is conspicuous by its absence from the Budget.

The economic fallout from the pandemic makes the grim prospect of families struggling to pay their mortgages highly likely if not inevitable. On top of the personal trauma and distress that that causes those people and their families, it places pressure on an already buckling housing system. I stood in the Chamber in October, pleading for serious consideration and outlining the need to introduce such a scheme, but in our book it is inexcusable that that does not even feature seven months later.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 3:15 pm, 25th May 2021

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Given the economic situation that we face in the coming months and years, it is with a heavy heart that we debate today's Budget. We cannot endorse its shortcomings and outright failings. Before long, the gaps will become gaping holes, which will be surely felt as society struggles to get back on its feet.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

This is a Budget of two halves. The additional £380 million of COVID funding will be crucial in the months ahead as we continue at pace with the very successful vaccination programme and concentrate our efforts on rebuilding and restoring as much elective activity as quickly as possible. However, while the additional funding is welcome, it should not be used to shield or deflect from the fact that much of it will have to be used to meet inescapable pressures and maintain key existing services in our health service.

As far as the Ulster Unionist Party is concerned, tackling our waiting lists must become one of the Executive's greatest collective priorities. Unfortunately, this Budget is instead largely made up of non-recurrent funding, which does not provide the certainty or security that is needed to tackle the absolutely appalling waiting lists on a sustainable footing. The current Finance Minister, like all Finance Ministers before him, is no doubt aware that short-term funding boosts do little for the health service. Knowing what money it will have in the years to come allows it to appoint and train staff and commission the services that are necessary to meet the demand.

The Health Minister has been very clear about how he wants to streamline the system, increase capacity and instil new ways of working. However, as well as additional funding, that will require clear political buy-in. Clinicians and patients are already travelling outside previous boundaries to deliver and receive care. We should learn from what is working well and extrapolate it across the system.

I welcome the additional allocation of just over £52 million to help to fund the Agenda for Change pay uplift as well as the further £20 million for safe staffing. It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only 16 months ago that there was serious unrest among our health workers. Yet, within days of taking office, the Health Minister had pulled together a package that restored pay parity and ultimately saw the unprecedented industrial action ended. The additional funding, as well as the clear commitment to safe staffing, was a key part of that.

If ever there was an occasion for the Assembly and all the parties in it to pledge to work together to evolve long-term budgeting and strategies to eradicate the unacceptable waiting lists for elective surgery and consultant appointments, it is now. It is certainly not a time for anyone to try to make political capital out of the current difficulties that our health and social care sector faces. Doing so would be recognised by the people of Northern Ireland for what it was.

Hard decisions will need to be taken. The Health Minister will not shy away from making those calls, and they will not be made with any selfish political considerations in mind but rather because the transformation of our health service will be in the best long-term interests of the people of Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party will support those hard decisions because it is the right thing to do.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate in my capacity as the SDLP's health spokesperson. We are facing the biggest crisis in the NHS of any of our lifetimes. The pandemic has not only greatly exacerbated an already dangerous situation but has served to highlight the faults and gaps in our healthcare system. Real people in real pain are behind the waiting list statistics. Greater levels of funding would help alleviate some of the most pressing and urgent issues, such as waiting lists, which are truly in a dire and deeply alarming state, and, most importantly, red-flag procedures such as cancer surgeries and treatments. Forty million pounds is not enough to tackle all of that. It is crucial that we invest correctly in order to help preserve life and provide improved quality of life for all our people who are currently on waiting lists.

Earlier this week, it was heartbreaking and deeply concerning to hear the Department of Health's estimate that it could take anywhere from five to 10 years to address the current waiting lists. There are real people on those waiting lists who are deteriorating and living with chronic pain. As time passes, their conditions only worsen and are somewhat irreversible. Really addressing the health crisis will require extensive reform and possibly a complete reimagining of our services. Money talks, and it is undoubtedly needed in order to support the regeneration of our NHS and how we do things.

What we have currently is a two-tier system. Those who can afford to go private do so, and their lives improve. Oftentimes, many are using their life savings, which is so sad. Others who cannot afford to go private, suffer and wait, wait and suffer, often dying on the waiting list. That is a sad and horrific reality of which none of us can be proud. We must make our health service run effectively and efficiently, but, to do so, we need a better Budget: one with ambition and vision. I am very disappointed that I do not see that today. As a result, we still see many challenges as we come out of COVID.

I welcome the funding that has been allocated in this year's Budget for mental health, but I am deeply disappointed that, in a 74-page Budget document, mental health is mentioned only twice. It is arguably one of the biggest difficulties that we will encounter coming out of the pandemic. The physical and mental well-being of people who are on waiting lists is at utmost risk. Many people have been willing to be patient during the COVID crisis, but, as we emerge from it, patience is wearing very thin. The Budget does nothing to tackle proactively the historical waiting lists, and it is important today to highlight that evident failure.

As a young person looking at the health service, I am filled with dread. Those waiting lists will take a significant amount of time to fix, but doing that is heavily dependent on having the correct funding. We all know or love somebody who is waiting on an appointment. That is the reality for one in four people in Northern Ireland. Over 300,000 are currently awaiting a treatment, a surgery or a meeting with a consultant. We must be ambitious and creative in tackling waiting lists so that we can improve their lives. Surely there is more that can be done. We must work harder and smarter for the results that our citizens deserve.

I will conclude with a few quick comments and questions to the Finance Minister. On 13 May 2021, Minister, your Sinn Féin colleague and health spokesperson in the South said:

"Waiting lists have been allowed to spiral over the last decade, due to chronic underfunding and neglect by the Government. This isn't good enough and patients across the state are being forced to suffer the consequences of this Government failure."

Now is our opportunity to tackle underfunding and neglect in the North, but, unfortunately, looking through the Budget that the Minister has put forward today, I feel that it lacks the vision and ambition that his colleagues have been calling for to address waiting lists in the South. Minister, I ask you this today: what more can you and your Department do to tackle waiting lists and to provide the appropriate funding so that they can be tackled?

I have another concern. Although it is good to see other political parties regarding waiting lists as a priority, I respectfully ask this: with the resources that you have, Minister, including civil servants in your Department, a joint First Minister, multiple Ministers and spads, what more creative and innovative ways and what vision do you have to help tackle issues in the health service? It is really important today to highlight some of the failures in the Budget. It is crucial to mention that, although it is good to have a cross-party commitment to improving waiting lists, we have not seen that today.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 3:30 pm, 25th May 2021

What other country in the world, in its centenary year, would produce a Budget without that centenary even being mentioned and without a penny in it to celebrate that centenary? It is a shame on every party that is part of the Government in this House that they collectively produced a Budget, so ashamed of the centenary of the place where they are the Government, in which it is not mentioned and there is not one penny to mark it. There is not a single penny for a community grant from the Department for Communities for those who might want to celebrate it. Nothing.

Indeed, Minister Murphy told us that not a single Department applied for a line in the Budget to mark the centenary. That is a staggering indictment, particularly of those who profess, outside of the House, their pride in Northern Ireland and this centenary. It is no surprise, maybe, from Mr Murphy, because what sort of a country produces a Budget in a centenary year without mentioning it or that does not want money for it? Maybe, the sort of country that has, as its Finance Minister, someone who thought it appropriate to join a terrorist organisation to seek to bomb that very country out of existence. Now, he is in the smug position to deliver a Budget that delivers such an insult to this place called Northern Ireland of which he is the Minister of Finance. Of course, he did much more than that. He rubbed the nose of every unionist in the dirt when he refused to allow a centenary stone within the grounds of Parliament Buildings, as did the Assembly Commission when, subject to the same belligerent Sinn Féin veto, it refused a centenary stone within the curtilage of this very Building.

Yet, this Budget can find room for squander. The Minister told us about £1·6 million for a translation hub to translate into Irish and Ulster Scots. I asked some questions for written answer of every Minister in the House. If we are going to have a translation hub, where is the demand for translation? I asked every Department how many requests they had in 2017-18, 2019-2020 and 2020-21 for translation of departmental documents into Irish or Ulster Scots. Of the five Departments that have answered so far, here are the results. They rival the UK's performance in Eurovision and probably have the same political connotations. The Health Department had no requests. The Department for Infrastructure, in three years, had eight requests for Irish and none for Ulster Scots. The Department of Agriculture , in three years, had no requests. The Department of Finance, in three years, had five requests for Irish and one for Ulster Scots; that will be a quare challenge. The Department of Justice had no requests. In three years, there were 13 requests to translate government documents into Irish and one such request for a translation into Ulster Scots. Yet, according to the document, that Department wants to spend, the Minister tells us, £1·6 million on a translation hub. We hear today of the billion pounds and more that our health service will need to tackle waiting lists, but the Government prioritise a translation hub that no one needs and that is not required, because everyone who reads government documents can also read English, in which they are published. For the political optics, however, we must, at a time of COVID, spend £1·6 million on such nonsense. What a sordid commentary on the Executive.

Then we find in the document that Mr Poots's Department wants to spend another £18·8 million on implementing the protocol. Mr Poots tells us that he is opposed to the protocol, and yet, in the Budget document, he is looking for EU exit staff costs of £18·8 million. How could Brussels ever take seriously anyone who says that they want to dismantle the protocol when, at the same time, they ask for —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

— almost £19 million to implement it? That is another part of the farce of this House.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I speak today as the Chairperson of the Audit Committee to reflect the scrutiny of the 2021-22 Budget for the Assembly Commission, the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO).

As the House is aware, the Audit Committee scrutinises and agrees the budgets and estimates of the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman and lays the estimates before the Assembly. The Committee also scrutinises the Commission's budget and is actively pursuing codification of that role, with a view to extending it to include consideration of the Commission's estimates. In recognition of the independence of the non-ministerial bodies, the Committee fulfils those budgetary functions in place of the Department of Finance. Following considerable scrutiny of the 2021-22 budgets for the three bodies, the Committee agreed its initial budget position document in December 2020. A debate specifically on the Commission's budget took place in the Chamber on 2 March 2021.

I wish to reflect on some particular areas covered during the Committee deliberations. I will start with the Assembly Commission. The Commission has a legal requirement to meet all costs associated with Members, including salaries, allowances, expenses, Members' staffing costs and pension contributions. Those budget elements are determination-driven and are not under the control of the Commission. However, the Committee considered those areas that are under the control of the Commission.

In relation to the capital budget, members recognised that resources were needed to address underinvestment in the fabric of the Building in the last three years. The areas discussed during evidence sessions with officials included electronic access control; the security management system; the audio system in the Chamber; updates to the telephone and television systems in Parliament Buildings, which are ongoing; and the potential financial impact of roof repairs to Parliament Buildings. Other resource elements considered included some income-generation options for the Commission, such as the use of Parliament Buildings for weddings and ceremonies and the staffing implications of a fully functioning Assembly.

In relation to the Audit Office, members questioned the officials on its accommodation project and the increasing cost from the concept design estimates that were shared with the Committee previously. However, it was noted that the increase was due to moving to a detailed design process, allowances for COVID-19 and construction inflation in the current marketplace. Discussions also took place around the costs associated with the Audit Office's continuing recruitment process, which is intended to achieve the appropriate balance in skills and expertise in the organisation in order to allow it to operate effectively, and the potential impact on income with the loss of European agricultural funding for rural development. The challenge of taking forward some of the RHI inquiry recommendations was also discussed at length.

During evidence sessions with the NIPSO and her officials, questions were asked around the resources required to deal with the projected increase in maladministration work and the additional staff needed to place a greater focus on learning and development work. It is hoped that that will lead to increased awareness and insight around complaints and ultimately result in improvements in public service delivery. The resources needed to allow the NIPSO to provide a high-quality, impartial and independent investigation service were also subject to discussion, including the resources needed to increase the capacity for own-initiative investigations. The Committee was keen to see commencement of complaints standards authority powers for NIPSO, and members paid particular attention to the resources needed to recruit appropriate staff and to put necessary systems in place.

As I have already mentioned, the Committee agreed its initial position on the draft budgets for the three bodies in December 2020, but, following correspondence from the Minister of Finance in relation to pay pressures and the public-sector pay freeze, the Committee revised its position to take the pay freeze into account. I can confirm that the Department of Finance Budget document has made provision for figures agreed by the Audit Committee.

I will now make remarks as an MLA for West Tyrone and the spokesperson on education for the SDLP. Some Members have mentioned that this is a disappointing Budget, and that is putting it lightly. There are many aspects of this Budget that lack vision, that lack strategy and that lack prioritisation of key, important issues that affect our constituents on the ground and on a daily basis. Members across the House have shared concerns about the state of our health service and about the waiting lists that are growing by the hour, let alone the day. People's pain is increasing, and they are becoming even more challenged by the circumstances that they find themselves in. When they seek support and help and the necessary medical attention, they are told that they are on the waiting list. As my colleague Cara Hunter said, people are literally dying on these waiting lists. That is a terrible indictment of the political failure of these institutions and of the Executive to deal with this fundamental issue, and it is not as a result of coronavirus. This predates coronavirus and was a problem then. What did we as an Assembly do, and what did parties of the Executive who were in a position of power and strength do, then? They walked out the door for three years, collapsing the institutions on the very feet of the people who were struggling and needing intervention and medical support. That is a terrible indictment and reflection of the political failure of this place that needs to stop. I know that the majority of constituents whom I speak for and represent in West Tyrone share that frustration as well.

Looking to roads, I see elected representatives across the various political parties, particularly Sinn Féin, standing next to potholes. These are not just councillors but MPs — abstentionist MPs, at that — and MLAs standing next to potholes, pointing at the road and saying, "Isn't this terrible?". I agree. It is terrible, and it should be resolved, but, unfortunately, in this Budget and after many bids from Minister Mallon, there has been no meaningful investment laid out by Minister Murphy as the Minister of Finance, the man who holds the purse, the man who holds the money, the man who has failed to provide adequate funding to the Department for Infrastructure, which has an outstanding Minister who is delivering on the ground for people but has been hamstrung as a result of a Finance Minister who is not coughing up the funds to deal with the roads — roads that run through every single community in Northern Ireland and that are becoming more and more embarrassing as the day goes on. This Finance Minister —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

— needs to put his money where his mouth is and start delivering for the priorities of people on the ground.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

This Budget utterly fails to meet the transformational change that we so desperately need in the wake of a global health pandemic, as we sit on the brink of climate catastrophe and as economic crisis and widespread social need grow. I have made my views on this Budget clear. Indeed, many in this Chamber have also recognised today its failure to deal with waiting lists, poverty and many more issues, yet the Minister is asking us to approve it and to accept the continuation of the damaging conditions that our communities have faced for far too long. I will certainly not be supporting the Budget today, and I wonder whether Members from Executive parties who have rightly condemned Minister Murphy's Budget will stand by their words and refuse to endorse it. Will they join me in pushing to reject these huge shortcomings? We will wait and see.

The Minister has presented this as a standstill Budget. Indeed, this is the very year when the Budget should break away from the neoliberalism of the past, address increasing needs and adjust for rising costs.

It harks back instead to an era of politics plagued by neoliberalism and underfunding. There has been no attempt at all to expand and properly fund the health service, community services or transport services, to name a few. All those areas were in crisis long before the Budget, but there is no attempt to bail them out financially. The Budget imposes effective reductions in funding for welfare support, homeless and mental health services and a real-terms cut for public transport.

It is particularly insulting that one of the most effective organisations in this city and one that my constituency office uses, the Belfast citywide tribunal service, which assists people with the brutal welfare reform system, was not allocated sufficient funding to keep its doors open over the next year and beyond by the Communities Minister as part of the Budget. The workers in that service do not know whether they have a job from year-to-year. That is not where the threat to workers and jobs ends.

Public-sector pay is devolved, yet the best that the Minister can offer civil servants is 1%. That is a slap in the face for those workers. My solidarity and full support go to those in NIPSA who are balloting on action against that meagre pay cut. The Hovis workers show what can be done to fight against pay cuts and freezes. If there is a strike for NIPSA workers, I will certainly support them.

The lack of allocation for health pay is a further disgrace. A year on from giving the commitment to increase the minimum wage, the Executive have done nothing. That is offensive to many working people, who deserve better. The Budget shows clearly that they are not a priority for the Executive. The Minister tries to make much of the Health budget increase of 5·7% in resource spending on last year, but health costs are estimated to have risen by roughly 6·5%, which is a reduction in real terms in the middle of a health pandemic, no less.

Where is the £75 million set aside for transformation that was previously promised? Where is the money to review adult care via 'Power to People'? Where is the £6·5 million for the extra nursing and midwifery student places that were designed to alleviate pressure? We heard from the Health Minister at the Health Committee, last week or the week before, about the lack of investment in mental health services. Where is the increase in provision for counselling? Where is the money that was set aside to rebuild cancer, oncology and haematology services and for improvements in palliative care and many other issues? Where is the increased provision for those in need of IVF treatment, to name just a few of the issues?

The Department for Infrastructure faces the same fate. With inflationary increases, the Budget represents a real-terms reduction. The document is littered with none too subtle threats of future cutbacks. We are told that Translink may need to consider "service reductions" and:

"there are likely to be significant impacts on public service delivery, including in areas such as public transport and roads maintenance."

Twenty-four hours after the Minister's party signs up to the politics of a green new deal, he lays down a threat to public transport, footways and street lighting, and he cannot even provide for a proper winter gritting service. That is a very worrying sign that working-class people will pay for the crisis once again.

The legacy of previous Stormont Budgets and decisions is well illustrated by the fact that we will pay out tens of millions of pounds in interest on private finance initiatives (PFIs) over the next year. That is a colossal waste of public money, brought about by the same parties that were also responsible for the likes of the renewable heat incentive (RHI); the same parties that lobbied Westminster for a decade to let them lower corporation tax for the wealthiest; and the same parties that struggled to spend a lot of money — it was hundreds of millions — on COVID support.

The same parties will roll their Ministers out to tell us that their hands are tied and that they cannot find the money for public services in the Budget. We have some outstanding journalists here, but, to put it frankly, the Executive get off lightly with how little they are held to account for what goes on in this Building and for the lasting impact that has on communities. I am sure that the big parties are very glad of that today.

That is not to say that the Minister gives journalists an easy job. The figures for the Budget are so general and broad-sweeping that it is next to impossible to detail exactly where the money will go. Where is the scrutiny? Where is the accountability, as others said today? We were barely given a chance to scrutinise it effectively or properly in our Committees. How on earth is any member of the press or public to ascertain from that where the money is going?

The failure of the Budget to protect young people, sick people and the environment is a gross abdication of duty. It is an attack on the working class, and we need, ultimately, an economic strategy that is based on redistributing wealth and providing for those in need. The Budget from the Sinn Féin Minister is the antithesis of that. For that reason and many more, I intend to vote against it today.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 3:45 pm, 25th May 2021

Before I call the Minister to make his winding-up speech, I remind him of the convention that Members and Ministers seeking to amend their own motion are invited to address the motion and the amendment together when winding. The Minister will have up to 23 minutes, and I invite him to conclude the debate on the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I thank Members and Committee Chairs for their participation in the debate. I thank Members who supported the Budget proposals for their input, and I listened with interest to Members who spoke against them. With the last couple of Members to speak, certainly the two in the corner, I am interested to see whether, rather than simply speaking against the Budget, they vote against it. I will try to respond to as many of the points raised as possible, although multiple points were raised by all who spoke and some of those were overlapping and cross-cutting.

I thank the Chair of the Finance Committee for his contribution. He raised the question of the notice given for the debate. That was an error in the Department. The Committee was not made aware of the exact timing, and I apologise for that oversight. I understand that the Committee was anticipating the debate, but we need to ensure that that does not happen again.

Dr Aiken raised points about streamlining the Budget process and the difficulties of that. I spoke about that before taking up this post, and I am determined to assist in delivering a more streamlined, accessible and understandable Budget process. The ongoing review of the financial process will help Members and the wider public to scrutinise the Budget, the Estimates and the accounts. We intend to take forward that work in the not-too-distant future.

The Member raised a number of other points about the fiscal council and its role. He has been speaking to people who have experience of fiscal councils, and the issue of independence has been raised by the Committee. I assure him that the council is an independent entity and will continue to be so. It will provide independent analysis of the Budget process.

Dr Aiken, the Chair of the Justice Committee and others asked about the victims' payments. They will be aware that, along with the First Minister, the deputy First Minister and the Minister of Justice, I have given an undertaking that payments will be made to successful applicants under the scheme. We remain committed to delivering the scheme and are mindful of the needs of the victims and survivors who will be the recipients of the payments. That undertaking provides reassurance and confidence that payments will be made when they fall due under the terms of the scheme, regardless of where the funding comes from. However, it remains the position of the Executive that the British Government should meet the costs of the expanded scheme legislated for by Westminster, and we continue to progress that. On occasion, the Member has referred to the idea of top-slicing Departments: I have always said that, if we cannot reach agreement with Westminster and have to meet the costs, that is one option for the Executive, but we intend to pursue vigorously with Treasury the funding of the scheme.

Dr Aiken also asked about the New Deal funding and the Community Renewal Fund. The Member may recall that the New Deal fund is outside the control of the Executive and is administered by the NIO. It is a matter of concern that that fund and others, such as the Community Renewal Fund, which are EU replacement funds, are administered by Whitehall, although the funding is clearly in the devolved space. The Community Renewal Fund and EU replacement funding were also mentioned by Maolíosa McHugh and Paula Bradley. We continue to be concerned about a lack of information on the replacement of EU funding. To date, our sense is that it will not match the funding that came with European membership, and the interference in our ability to distribute and prioritise that funding remains an ongoing concern that we continue to raise with Treasury, as do the Finance Ministers for Scotland and Wales.

The Budget exchange scheme — the carry-over of spending — works on the basis of an ongoing analysis of the provisional out-turn and an assessment of the funding that can be carried forward under the scheme limits. At this stage, I am reasonably confident that we remain within our agreed limits: non-ring-fenced resource DEL of £85·8 million and capital DEL of £22·3 million.

A number of Members raised issues about multi-annual Budgets, and we have made repeated requests to the British Government about that. Part of the position here is that we are in a cycle of one-year Budgets.

It was very late notice. We were advised over the year that there would be a multi-annual Budget cycle. In my discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer a fortnight ago, I was assured that that would be the position from next year onwards. We certainly hope that that is the case, and we will hold him to that promise.

The Chair of the Economy Committee raised issues about the discretion that the Department for the Economy will have with regard to the economic recovery action plan, which includes £145 million for the high street support scheme. The remaining funds are to be used at the Department's discretion for economic support measures. The discretion is not extended to other funds and does not remove the need for business cases to be completed to support expenditure decisions and for expenditure proposals that are above the Department's delegated limits. Those business cases must be submitted to the Department of Finance for approval.

The Chair also raised a point, as others did, about the furlough scheme coming to an end. We have talked to Treasury about the importance of the furlough scheme. We recognise the support that the furlough scheme has provided, and we will engage with Treasury about the importance of the scheme as we move into a new phase of economic recovery. There is a real fear among employers about approaching a cliff edge.

The Chair of the Justice Committee and Mike Nesbitt raised the issue of funding for policing. The Budget has allocated £12·3 million for police numbers, which will help to progress the NDNA priority of 7,500 officers. The Executive will decide on future Budgets, and that issue will undoubtedly form part of those deliberations.

Questions were raised about a number of Departments. Kellie Armstrong asked about the Department for Communities. I am happy to say that, last week, the Executive agreed over £50 million of COVID-19 funding for the Department for Communities to help to address some of the issues that the Member raised, including support for arts, culture and sports. Of course, all Departments remain significantly challenged.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I am prepared to give way, but I have limited time.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Sorry, my intervention is very limited.

Apologies, Minister, but I have to chair another meeting. It means no disrespect to you that I am heading off. I am sure that my able Deputy Chair will do what is required. I am not sure whether he will do it using a 'Star Wars' theme.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I appreciate the Chair's advice.

A question was asked about the Programme for Government's alignment with the Budget. Of course, that is and has been the intention since the Executive returned. The difficulty with that is twofold: first, an annual Budget and, secondly, dealing with the pandemic. As we get reassurance from the Treasury in the time ahead, I would like to see us getting back to that issue.

Pat Catney raised a number of issues about new spending and NDNA money. We could not include some of the money that came late, as the Secretary of State had not signed off on it. It is not included in the document, and we made that clear at the start. You cannot have new spending if you have a flat-cash Budget, unless you take it off other Departments, so that is impossible.

I enjoyed Robin Newton's Mr Micawber proposals. He would have been a tax-and-spend man: you spend only what you have. The other Governments are looking at spend and tax to try to stimulate economic recovery, and I hope that that direction is thought through in the future. It allows investment in necessary services and infrastructure and allows prosperity to be generated through the spending of government money and tax returns on the back of that.

Jim Allister raised the issue of the translation hub and criticised the lack of spending on the centenary. The cost of the translation hub is £160,000. I think that the Member said £1·6 million. It is £0·16 million, which I clearly said in my statement.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I said £1·6 million because that is exactly the figure that the Minister said in his first speech today.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

If that is the case, I apologise. The figure is £0·16 million. We will not haggle over a decimal point, but I am glad that that matter can be cleared up.

From the number of SDLP Members giving speeches, it is clear that they have decided to go into election mode on the Budget statement. That memo has not been shared with other parties. The SDLP has gone back to the position that it has tried to hold over the past 14 years with limited success: straddling two positions at one time.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

No. A litany of SDLP Members have spoken, and I have listened to them all. I now have the opportunity to reply to them. They are attempting to straddle two positions — being in the Executive and in opposition — at the same time. They spoke passionately and vociferously against the Budget proposition, looking for new spend, new vision and new ideas, yet, when we got notice on 24 November that we had a flat-cash, one-year Budget, the SDLP accepted, at the Executive, that there was no other prospect for the Executive but to accept a rollover Budget. That was agreed by all Ministers on the Executive. The SDLP agreed that the only way of doing new thinking, new vision and new spending was by taking money off other Departments and allocating it to wherever we wanted to see that new vision, and, in the time frame afforded to us, that was not possible. The SDLP therefore accepted that at Executive level, but today its Members have decided that they are on an election footing. They claim credit for things that the Executive do, as they will do in the time ahead — if that works for them, more fool the people — and ignore the fact that there is a 29% increase in the Department for Infrastructure's capital budget.

I have just listened to Mr McCrossan complaining about roads. For this year, the Department for Infrastructure received the biggest increase and largest capital allocation in its history, so I hope that there will not be a need for any more photographs beside potholes and that SDLP Members will be able to celebrate all the money that the Minister for Infrastructure has to spend. That approach is an attempt to claim the credit for the Executive's work and anything that is done — certainly anything that is done by their ministerial colleague — and to blame us all for the rest of the problems arising out of a bad budgetary outcome, which we have clearly acknowledged.

One of the benefits of being in this institution for as long as I have is that I can remember positions that people took in the past. In the past, the SDLP used to vote against the Budget, even though it was in the Executive. Occasionally, it put forward some fairly ill-thought-out suggestions as to how we could do things differently. It once suggested that we sell off the forests and, indeed, airports that we did not own in order to raise funding. They have learnt a lesson from that, so its Members are not bringing forward any policy positions or suggestions as to how, with this limited Budget, they would do things differently. They will probably vote for the Budget while pretending to oppose it at the same time. The SDLP's consistent position over the past number of years is that it has never had any workable propositions to do things better, particularly in the context of a one-year, standstill Budget, yet it professes to oppose all the necessary measures in this Budget.

I have been about here for so long that I can remember the portfolios that SDLP Ministers once held. They held the Department of Finance and the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) portfolios — you will remember it, Mr Speaker — at the same time. DEL had responsibility for further and higher education. The fact that the SDLP ran both those Departments meant that it had the possibility of doing something with the university in Derry, had it wanted to.

It also held the Department for Social Development portfolio. I listened to a lecture from Mr Durkan about what all needed to be done on housing, but he ignores the fact that £160 million has been set aside for social housing this year. That is an 11% increase on last year. The policy that the SDLP has adopted is as transparent as it is dishonest. We all know the impact of bad Budgets. We are dealing with one this year, as we have done for many years, as a consequence of austerity policies from Whitehall: austerity policies that Mr O'Toole was paid to write press releases endorsing when he worked in Whitehall, as we here were battling their impact.

We know that waiting lists are crucial and critical. They affect all parties and all members of society. The response to that is for all Ministers to work together, constructively, with the limited resources that they have and not to attempt to exploit the misery of waiting lists for some hoped-for electoral advantage.

It is the responsibility of a Finance Minister to bring Budget proposals before the House. That is a responsibility that I take seriously, whether they are Budget proposals with a lot of resources attached or with very limited resources, as is the case today. Following the successful roll-out of the vaccine programme, together with the decisive actions of the Executive, we are entering a new phase of the COVID-19 response. The Executive are looking forward to how best they can support our economy and our people in their recovery. In a world where the future economic, social and health landscape is uncertain, it is imperative that we provide the platform that is needed for public services to respond to changing demands.

This Budget seeks to support key services now and is a platform for future responsive planning. On that note, I commend the Budget to the Assembly for approval.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Before we turn to the vote on the amended motion, I remind Members that the vote on this motion requires cross-community support.

Main Question, as amended, put.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Clear the Lobbies. The Question will be put again in three minutes. I remind Members that they should continue to uphold social distancing and that Members who have proxy voting arrangements in place should not come into the Chamber.

I ask Members to take their seats. Before I put the Question, I remind Members that it would be preferable to avoid a Division.

Question put a second time.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Before the Assembly divides, I remind Members that, as per Standing Order 112, the Assembly has proxy voting arrangements in place. Members who have authorised another Member to vote on their behalf are not entitled to vote in person and should not enter the Lobbies. I remind all Members of the requirement for social distancing while the Division takes place. I ask you to ensure that you maintain gaps of at least 2 metres between yourself and other Members when moving around the Chamber or the Rotunda and especially in the Lobbies. Please be patient at all times, observe the signage and follow the instructions of the Lobby Clerks. Clear the Lobbies.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 80; Noes 5

AYES

NATIONALIST:

Ms Anderson, Dr Archibald, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Brogan, Mr Catney, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mr Lynch, Mr McAleer, Mr McCann, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Ms Mullan, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin

UNIONIST:

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Stewart, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir

OTHER:

Ms Armstrong, Mr Blair, Ms Bradshaw, Mr Dickson, Mrs Long, Mr Lyttle, Mr Muir

Tellers for the Ayes: Dr Archibald, Ms Dolan

NOES

UNIONIST:

Mr Allister, Ms Sugden

OTHER:

Ms Bailey, Mr Carroll, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mr Carroll

<TR><TD>Total Votes
85Total Ayes80[94.1%]
Nationalist Votes37Nationalist Ayes37[100.0%]
Unionist Votes38Unionist Ayes36[94.7%]
Other Votes10Other Ayes7[70.0%]
<BR/>

Main Question, as amended, accordingly agreed to. Resolved (with cross-community support):

That this Assembly approves the programme of expenditure proposals for 2021-22 as set out in the Budget laid before the Assembly on 1 April 2021 and the further detailed information provided to Members on 27 April 2021 and laid on 19 May 2021.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments before the next item of business.

(Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Stalford] in the Chair)

Motion made: That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [Mr Principal Deputy Speaker.]