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Secretary of state's budget includes £410m of cash from DUP deal with Tories

Karen Bradley announced a budget in the absence of an executive. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

MORE than £400m of the £1bn package negotiated by the DUP in their link-up with the Conservatives and a rates rise will ensure there is more money to spend on the north's public services in the financial year ahead.

The spending figures were announced yesterday in a written statement by Secretary of State Karen Bradley, who in the absence of a Stormont executive, is responsible for allocating around £12 billion.

Her regional budget includes £410 million of the £1 billion secured by the DUP as part of its confidence and supply agreement with Theresa May's minority government.

However, the increase in the total regional budget is marginal in real terms and senior civil servants are warning that the next 12 months will be challenging.

Just over £5.3 billion of the total earmarked by Mrs Bradley will be spent on health, with a further £100m available to fund health service reform, as set out in the Bengoa report.

While spending on health increases by 5.5 per cent, this largely reflects rising costs rather than a cash boost.

Education spending increases by 4.3 per cent to £1.9 billion, including additional money for schools secured through the DUP-Tory deal.

More money will be spent on infrastructure too, with £200m of the confidence and supply cash earmarked for as yet unspecified roads projects, potentially including Belfast's York Street interchange.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs would have seen its comparatively small budget cut were it not for an additional funds earmarked for tackling rural poverty.

Allocations to other departments, including justice, economy, finance and communities, are effectively flat or reduced compared to last year. The Executive Office takes the greatest hit proportionately and is facing a cut of four per cent compared to 2017-18.

There is no increase for any of the six non-ministerial bodies, with Assembly Commission spending being cut by nearly £3 million, leaving it with £36m to spend over the next 12 months. If, as expected, Mrs Bradley slashes MLAs' pay by a third next week, the Stormont administration body will save nearly £1.3m over the next year.

The secretary of state has also given department the option of revenue raising, through measures such as increased hospital car park charges, however, it is unlikely these measures will be implemented over the course of the next 12 months.

In her statement, Mrs Bradley said it had been her hope that a new Stormont executive would have beeen in place to set a budget.

"That will now not be possible in time for plans to be put in place for the forthcoming financial year," she saud.

"Yet there are acute pressures across public services to be addressed in 2018/19 and clarity is required now to enable planning to proceed for the year ahead. It is now imperative, therefore, that the UK government provides clarity and certainty around Northern Ireland finances for 2018/19."

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

The component of domestic and business rates set by central government will increase by 4.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively, adding around £22 a year to the average household rates bill.

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