Stormont still waiting for Treasury green light on retaining Covid millions
STORMONT is still awaiting Treasury confirmation on whether it can retain millions of unspent Covid funding, the Finance Minister has said.
Conor Murphy said he had expected a response last Friday on whether extra flexibility will be offered to the executive to carry funds into the next financial year.
Stormont currently has £430 million of unallocated funding, including almost £300 million of the £3 billion in Covid-19 support it received from the UK Government in the current financial year.
Around £200 million of that was received in late December.
While ministers are attempting to find ways to get the money spent before March 31, they have also asked for flexibility from the Treasury to carry more than the usually allowable amounts into the 2021/22 budget period.
They believe they have a strong case for flexibilities particularly in regard to money received late in the financial year.
During Assembly questions today, SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole asked Mr Murphy for an update on how much money could be carried over and retained.
"The short answer is we don't know because we haven't yet been informed," the minister replied.
"We did expect on Friday to hear from Treasury finally, to get some clarity in relation to that carry over.
"We have some sense of expectation what it might be but we cannot include it in the document such as the one you've referenced (2021/22 budget) unless we have some certainty attached to that.
"So the sooner we can get certainty in relation to that (the better). My officials continue to be engaged with Treasury on a daily basis to try and get the certainty that we require and then the figures can be included in the final budget document."
During question time, Mr Murphy was also challenged on the time it was taking to allocate funds to businesses hit by Covid lockdown under the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme.
The minister said part of the reason for delays was due to the significant error rate in applications received.
"There have been a high number of ineligible (applications) because there are a range of schemes being operated some people have applied to the wrong scheme," he said.
"Some people have made erroneous applications. You would not believe the amount of people who have sent on wrong bank account details, so when everything is processed, you have to go back to the start again.
"There are people who have made multiple applications for the one premises, sometimes 14 or 15 applications for the one premises.
"So a lot of these things will clog up the system."