Northern Ireland Executive to meet to discuss finances and childcare

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly Credit: UTV

A meeting of the Executive is set to take place on Thursday amid an ongoing dispute with the UK Government over Northern Ireland's finances.

At this first substantive meeting of the newly-formed Executive, Ministers will tackle the pressing issues of finance and childcare.

Earlier this week the Government outlined the details of a £3.3bn funding package - but said locally-elected ministers would have to raise £113m in the next budget. The parties have said they did not agree to revenue-raising measures.

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly have ruled out a 15 percent rates hike.

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, Ms O’Neill said they hope “to be at the Treasury’s door” in the coming days, and said they always knew it would be a “battle a day”.

Mrs Little-Pengelly said: "Across the rest of the UK, it is all about trying to protect household incomes, they are even talking about tax reductions, and yet in Northern Ireland we are being asked to increase the tax burden on hard-working families."

She added that the Executive is united in their aim to help families with the financial pressure they are under "rather than adding to their pressures".

One of the main issues putting a strain on family finances is childcare.

There is currently no free childcare provision in Northern Ireland, and parents say they are being left behind as elsewhere in UK families benefit from more support measures.

The Assembly debated a Sinn Fein motion calling for Executive to work collectively to deliver a strategy to make high quality childcare affordable for families as a priority.

Education Minister Paul Givan has revealed that a fully 'up-and-running childcare strategy' would cost an estimated £400million.

More money is also needed to upgrade Northern Ireland's public services and facilitate public sector pay awards and there is a limit to how far the newly-formed Executive's finances will stretch.

The First Minister has maintained that it is not about Northern Ireland having "a begging bowl approach" or failing to recognise that efficiencies can be made.

“I think on the one hand for it to be recognised that we are under funded, and on the other hand to say we need to burden households who are really struggling right now with further costs is not acceptable", she said.

The multi-million pound question remains how to resolve the unfinished business of revenue raising amid competing priorities across the board. Updates to follow.

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