Row over Stormont budget could impact on key services

Finance minister Conor Murphy

A ROW has broken out over the Stormont budget after finance minister Conor Murphy said Arlene Foster had blocked him from presenting a final version for the new financial year.

Mr Murphy has written to Assembly members and warned the delay will impact on the ability of departments to make financial plans, according to the BBC.

He also said any failure to agree the final budget could result in problems in extending Covid funding to businesses.

The DUP reacted by saying it was "a failure of no one but the Sinn Féin finance minister".

The party also claimed there was a lack of clarity over funding for victims' payments, which Mr Murphy has rejected.

UUP leader Steve Aiken said the delay showed a "shambolic approach to public finances in Northern Ireland".

Dr Aiken, who is chair of Stormont's finance committee, said that reading between the lines it "appeared to be about the internal feuding between Sinn Féin and the DUP".

"That the Troubles Permanent Disablement (Troubles pension) Scheme will be further delayed, essential funding for health curtailed, policing numbers not being increased, and support to our economy and infrastructure defrayed, just demonstrates that elements within our executive are still incapable of making the grown-up decisions that any other democracy would expect."

In January, Mr Murphy presented a "difficult" draft budget which then opened for consultation.

It included a £1.75 million capital allocation to deliver the A5 and A6 and a new mother and children's hospital, as well as £538 million for the response to coronavirus.

There was also funding to enable work to start on Casement Park in west Belfast.

However, Mr Murphy said at the time he did not have enough funding following the spending review to deliver economic recovery.

In his recent letter to MLAs, he said he circulated a paper to executive ministers on 15 March setting out a final budget that contained a number of "minor adjustments".

"Although the paper has been agreed by the deputy first minister, the first minister has not agreed to the paper being tabled for executive consideration," he wrote.

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