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David Sterling: Top civil servant says new budget urgently needed

David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service

THE head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has warned that it needs clarity on a budget by next month.

With no budget set for the start of the next financial year in April, David Sterling said staff cannot continue to run public services without knowing how much they will have to spend.

In an interview with the BBC, he said public finances are about to reach a "crunch point".

The north has been without a devolved government since the executive collapsed in January last year.

In the absence of devolution or direct rule from Westminster, civil servants have been running Stormont departments.

Mr Sterling said he "never believed we would be able to survive this long", but a crisis point could be reached early next month.

"Really, we cannot go much beyond the beginning of February without clarity about how much departments and various public bodies are going to have to spend next year."

He said the lack of a budget is affecting services including health and social care.

"We have a clear need to transform the health service, we have a clear understanding of what is actually needed to do that. What we need are just some of those key decisions to allow us to go ahead," he said.

Amid hopes that talks aimed at restoring power-sharing will resume soon, Mr Sterling called for the return of the executive.

"We're part of this place, we're part of this society and it's important to us that we have our own people making these big decisions."

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said all politicians should heed Mr Sterling's warnings.

"Both the DUP and Sinn Féin need to move their focus beyond their narrow base to the wider collective community. The calls for devolution are not about political parties - but people," she said.

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