16 January 2004
A major increase in revenue and capital expenditure has been announced by acting Northern Ireland finance minister Ian Pearson, who has published his revised Budget.
Service expenditure is to rise by 7.9% in the coming financial year and a further 5.3% in 2005/06, with capital investment rising from £750m in the current year to more than £1bn in 2005/06.
Pearson said that as a result of submissions after he published his draft Budget at the end of last year, he had cut allocations for departmental administration.
'One theme which emerged strongly from my consultation, and in my discussion with political parties, was concern about the size of bureaucracy in Northern Ireland and the need to deliver services more efficiently,' he added.
New capital investment schemes announced included development of water treatment works, the building of new schools and road improvement works.
An extra £220m will go into health services, including 36 additional beds at Craigavon hospital, following recent negative publicity about patients having to wait in hospitals on trolleys. There is also to be a new £8m cancer research centre.
Acting health minister for Northern Ireland Angela Smith said that increases to her budget would go on increasing hospital capacity, new technology and in improvements to primary care.
Pearson also announced that the strategic investment programme's total value of projects in hand had reached almost £3bn. This includes a further £765m to be spent on NHS capital schemes under the Private Finance Initiative and public-private partnerships.
But Sean Farren, the former finance minister under the devolved Assembly, criticised the budget, saying that it was 'unacceptable' that domestic rates would rise under the budget by 8.8% without radical reform to the existing system to protect the poorest from increased bills.