Parties accused of budgetary 'stitch-up'

SINN Fein and DUP budget ary "stitch up" amounts to the "gross mismanagement" of public finances, Alliance claimed last night after it voted against the budget agreed at Stormont.

In the June monitoring round agreed yesterday the executive voted to cut the public spending budget by £78 million.

While the departments of health and education are exempt from reductions the biggest losses will be felt by the departments of justice, social development and employment and learning.

There is an immediate 2.1 per cent reduction in running costs across the board and finance minister Simon Hamilton warned that the cuts faced by departments come October "will be every bit as harsh but they are completely avoidable".

A deal between Sinn Féin and the DUP on welfare reform was delayed to later this year with a penalty of £87m due to be imposed by Westminster which will come out of the October monitoring round.

Sinn Féin has led the opposition to the reforms.

The party's Daithí McKay said: "What we need to do now is prevent further cuts to our budget from the British government by going and having a united front from the executive in terms of the issue of welfare cuts."

There was a four-week delay in agreeing the June monitoring round. Under the cuts the Department of Justice will lose £22m, Employment and Learning £16m and Social Development £14m.

The Department of Health bid for an extra £160m but was allocated £20m.

It was criticised by the finance minister for its budget management who said the £20m was conditional upon improvement.

The department exceeded its spending last year by £13m and was also criticised for failing to spend money on new health care centre projects.

Alliance's two executive ministers voted against the deal and party leader David Ford accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of "gross mismanagement" of public finances.

Mr Ford said what the two parties had done was "politically clever in the short term but financially stupid in the long term".

"They have torn up the rule book for properly managing public finances. People need to know that today's political deal doesn't mean that the budget crisis has been resolved - it's made it worse."

The sole UUP minister Danny Kennedy abstained and said the two main parties, and Sinn Féin in particular, were guilty of "voodoo economics".

"While they may try and spin the June monitoring round as a victory, all they have done is kick the can down the road. We are only eight weeks away from the next monitoring round," he said.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said the "cobbled together deal" is "already falling apart".

She said assembly committees should have been given the opportunity to scrutinise the details.

Meanwhile, the future of Exploris Aquarium in Co Down has been secured after £900,000 was earmarked to keep the the tourist attraction open.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry also received the £4m funding it requested and funding was set aside to continue providing free public transport to people aged over 60.


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