1. ITV Report

Westminster tables budget for NI amid Stormont impasse

A £12bn Westminster spending plan for Northern Ireland has been unveiled by the Secretary of State, in the absence of devolved government at Stormont.

Although it is the second time the UK Government has imposed a budget since the collapse of the devolved political institutions more than a year ago, this is the more significant development.

The delayed budget passed last November by former Secretary of State James Brokenshire merely enacted draft spending plans already formulated by devolved ministers before the Stormont crash.

This time around, Westminster is making its own policy decisions on where to allocate Northern Ireland’s block grant in the coming financial year.

Current Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley outlined the budget in a written statement to Parliament on Thursday.

It includes £410m of the £1bn investment package secured by the DUP as part of its confidence and supply agreement with the minority Conservative administration.

There are acute pressures across public services to be addressed ...

It is now imperative, therefore, that the UK Government provides clarity and certainty around Northern Ireland finances.

– NI Secretary of State Karen Bradley

The UK Government continues to insist that it does not want to see a return to full Westminster direct rule.

However, the passage of the budget in London will be viewed by many as another step in that direction.

Mrs Bradley said it would not be appropriate to take fundamental or transformative decisions, rather act to secure and protect public service delivery amid the ongoing impasse.

The budget delivers real-term increases in health and education spending and cash terms increases - below the rate of inflation - for justice, infrastructure and agriculture.

All other departments will see their allocation maintained at the same level or decreased. Significant decreases are envisaged for the Department of Finance and the Executive Office.

Mrs Bradley has also moved to set the regional rate that provides for local government services in Northern Ireland. The domestic rate is set to increase by 4.5% and the non-domestic rate by 1.5%.

The budget only sets the overall allocations for Stormont departments.

It is for the senior civil servants currently in charge of those departments to decide how to distribute the cash among the services they are responsible for.

Mrs Bradley said she had engaged intensively with the civil servants in formulating the spending plan and had also discussed the situation with the main Stormont parties.

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