Northern Ireland

NI Secretary warned civil service budgetary decisions no longer 'feasible'

Head of the NI Civil Service, Jayne Brady. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA
Head of the NI Civil Service, Jayne Brady. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Head of the NI Civil Service, Jayne Brady. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA

THE Northern Ireland Secretary has said that setting budgets in the absence of Stormont ministers is "not sustainable" after the head of the north's Civil Service warned of pressures her staff faced over financial decisions.

Jayne Brady addressed concerns faced by civil servants in a letter to the Secretary of State, saying they had made £1 billion's worth of "challenging" budgetary decisions since taking over governance from ministers after power-sharing at Stormont collapsed last year.

Ms Brady said departmental permanent secretaries and their teams continuing to try and make savings within a tight budget was no longer "feasible" and said such decisions would usually require ministerial or Executive oversight as a matter of law.

Her concerns were outlined in a letter to Chris Heaton Harris this week, in which she warned an overspend on the budget was "unavoidable".

The BBC reported Ms Brady said in the letter that action was urgently needed to "mitigate the immediate damage of the budget cuts" and said civil servants in Stormont departments had "reached their limit" as they face further decisions worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

"It is my view that we are beyond the point in the financial year where such decisions are feasible," Ms Brady said in the letter, warning that this was the case even if a Stormont Executive was to be formed within this financial year.

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Earlier this week, the NI secretary told the House of Commons that "funding alone will not solve these issues", adding: "We need strong and responsible leadership; we need the Executive back."

In a response to the concerns outlined in Ms Brady's letter, the Northern Ireland Office said Mr Heaton-Harris was "acutely aware of the challenges faced by departments and civil servants".

"Our focus remains on Executive restoration, and the Secretary of State will continue to engage with departments over the coming weeks," a spokesperson said.

"While action has been taken to ensure governance can continue, including through setting two Northern Ireland budgets, this position is not sustainable."

The spokesperson said restoring the Executive was "crucial" in order for the north's politicians to "take strategic decisions on an affordable and deliverable Programme for Government".

"In the meantime, the Secretary of State will continue to engage with the NI Civil Service on the management of departmental budgets for this financial year, and working on budget sustainability, including the implementation of revenue raising measures," they added.