Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 21st March 2022.
With your permission, a LeasCheann Comhairle, I will answer questions 10 and 14 together.
In the absence of an Executive, it will not be possible to agree a final Budget for 2022-25. However, there are mechanisms in place that will allow Departments to continue spending to maintain public services. The Vote on Account, which is included in the Budget Bill that just concluded its passage through the Assembly and is awaiting Royal Assent, will allow Departments to continue spending until the summer.
That, on its own, may provide time for a returning Executive to agree a Budget and for a Budget (No. 2) Bill to be passed. However, if that is not the case, from 31 July, the Department of Finance's permanent secretary may approve the issue of cash and use of resources under section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and section 7 of the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2001. Of course, neither of those allows Departments to plan effectively, nor do they provide the additional resources included in the draft Budget.
I am considering measures that may allow the Department of Health to plan on the basis that its budget will increase by the £400 million generated by the National Insurance increases. However, even if that is possible, the lack of an Executive will still mean that there will be significant funding that cannot be allocated in 2022-23. That includes some £300 million that has become available since the draft Budget was announced.
That ends the period for listed questions. We now move to topical questions. Questions 1 and 5 have been withdrawn.