Northern Ireland ‘faces further cuts without welfare reform deal'

13 May 15

Northern Ireland’s new finance minister has warned that public services in the province will face further cuts unless a deal is reached in the devolved executive to implement welfare reforms.

Arlene Foster, who was appointed to the role yesterday following a ministerial reshuffle, said her top priority would be to ensure that the 2015/16 budget could be implemented.

The spending plans were only agreed following an emergency allocation of £100m in additional funding from the Westminster government. This was required as the executive was on course to spend more than was allocated due to the impact of cuts.

Northern Ireland has not implemented welfare reforms agreed by the UK government, but has had its budget reduced in line with the savings that were meant to be made, meaning that reductions have had to be made in other areas. An agreement was reached on the 2015/16 budget in January in the so-called Stormont House Agreement, which former finance minister Simon Hamilton warned remaining departments facing ‘challenging’ reductions of more than 10%.

Following her appointment to replace Hamilton, who has been moved to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Foster said that implementing the budget was the priority.

‘The financial package secured as part of the Stormont House Agreement paved the way for executive agreement on the 2015/16 budget,’ she added. ‘However, in the absence of progress on welfare reform, we simply do not have a workable budget. Delays in implementation will undoubtedly have a significant impact on Departmental budgets and would necessitate further cuts to public services. I will do everything within my power as the Finance Minister to prevent our public services from further unnecessary cuts.’

In her first statement in post, Foster also said she was committed to ensuring the devolution of corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland, which had been pledged by the Westminster government.

‘I am acutely aware of the challenges of this position and have no doubt there will be difficult decisions ahead,’ she added. ‘I want to ensure that the best possible services are delivered for the people of Northern Ireland within the resources available to us.’

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