More money released to keep Stormont departments running during power-sharing impasse

Spending limits imposed on Stormont departments amid the power-sharing impasse have been increased to ensure public services in Northern Ireland continue to be delivered in the absence of an Executive.

Departments are currently operating on contingency funding arrangements with restrictions on the cash they can spend.

The DUP has blocked the formation of a new ministerial executive since May's Assembly election in protest at Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol.

That means departments are currently operating without a politically agreed budget for the 2022/23 financial year.

In the absence of a properly functioning executive, the senior civil servant in the Department of Finance has legal authority to authorise spending and set resource limits up to 95% of the total funding available for the year.

Up until this point, departments had been spending money that had been authorised by MLAs in a vote in the Assembly in March, prior to May's election.

The level of funding authorised by that 'vote on account' in March - which was 45% of last year's budget - is now running out and departments need more cash for the remainder of 2022/23.

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance Neil Gibson has now to exercised his legal powers to take control of Stormont's coffers and release more cash.

For most departments the authorisation limit has now been set at approximately 60% of what departments were provided for the 2021-22 financial year.

The 60% limit be reviewed again in October.

Neil Gibson. Credit: UTV

The process is similar to that followed during the last power-sharing impasse between 2017 and 2020.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance said: "These contingency arrangements are no substitute for an agreed budget and while departments will have legal cover to continue to spend on delivering services, they will still not have the certainty that an agreed budget would provide."

The DUP has made clear that it will not permit the formation of a new executive until controversial checks and paperwork on Irish Sea trade created by the protocol are removed.