North's Budget Spend 'Agreed'

There have been both winners and losers as a 'final' budget package is presented to a special session of the Stormont Assembly today.

The package has also had both backers who favour the harsh economic measures and those who have opposed it - and even voted against the deal.

The Education Department was a winner being granted an extra £150m over the next four years, while the Department for Social Development saw its funds cut by £70m.

NI Health Minister Michael McGimpsey also got an extra £120m over the next four years.

Despite the boost to Education and Health, the relevant Executive Ministers - both members of the Ulster Unionist party (UUP) - were among those who voted against the plans - following their party's policy.

The SDLP Social Development Minister, Alex Attwood also opposed the budget measures and voted against the deal in the Assembly last night.

The problem lies in the £4bn in spending cuts with a final vote next week, well ahead of the Assembly elections on 5 May.

Alliance Party Finance Spokesperson, Stephen Farry has today set out the basis of his party's support for the Executive's Budget 2011-2015 and highlighted what he said are the beginnings of a more strategic approach including addressing the costs of division.

The MLA stated: "This Budget is not an Alliance Budget. We have our own ideas, emphasis and priorities. An Alliance Budget would be more radical in terms of modernising public services and investing in the economy.

"That said, Alliance respects that we are part of a five-party Executive that has to agree a budget and Departmental allocations within a constrained and reduced set of resources.

"We respect the process that we are in while remaining committed to a programme of reform to make it work better. Failure to agree a budget would leave the Assembly and Executive in default of their legal obligations and see a bad budget imposed," he said.

"It is a shame that other parties have not been similarly constructive and it is not sustainable for both the UUP and SDLP to remain in the Executive and be bound by the collective responsibility of the Ministerial Code if their parties are intent on opposing the Budget on the floor of the Assembly," he continued.

"We now have the potential for a more strategic approach which must be followed through over the next for four years. I welcome that the Budget Review Group will now be a standing sub-committee of the Executive," he concluded.

Friday's session of the Assembly will allow Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to outline the final adjustments to his budget and answer some questions from MLAs.

However, the budget package will not be put to a formal vote until next week - the Assembly hopes without a repeat of frank exchanges across the Executive table at Stormont Castle on Thursday night.

The exchanges came as the DUP Finance Minister said it has identified more than £450m in extra money to distribute to the Executive departments.

Finance Minister said that new cash would be available partly because the Land and Property Service has improved its efficiency in gathering the rates.

He claimed the new cash takes the total of additional revenue generated under the budget to more than £1bn.


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