Finance Minister to bring 'very difficult' budget paper to Executive tomorrow

Finance Minister Dr Caoimhe Archibald has said that she intends to bring a "very difficult" budget paper to the Exectuive tomorrow.

Dr Archibald was speaking as the Executive enters its 80th day since restoration. The parties had been asked to raise £113m in funding by the Secretary of State upon the restoration of the Executive.

Speaking to the media on a visit to Ulster University's Coleraine campus, the Minister outlined the limited amount of money she has to allocate and that she hopes that she has allocated it in line with the Executive's priorities.

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"We are in a really challenging budgetary situation. We had a financial package from the British Government on the restoration of the Executive. It sounded like a big number but of the £3bn of that package, £1bn has already been spent last year in terms of dealing with pay and the overspend that were accrued as a result of the really difficult budget from the Secretary of State last year," she said.

"In terms of the rest of that money, it is split over two years for some parts of it and five years for other parts of it so the money that I had to allocate for this financial year amounts to just under £1bn and I had bids from departments for £3bn of resources which is day to day spending. In terms of capital money, I had just under £2bn to allocate and I had £3bn of bids in terms of infrastructure projects.

"It is really challenging for each Minister and I have been having conversations with every single minister in the Executive. I have submitted a paper which I hope will be discussed at tomorrow's Executive and I will not preempt those discussions but I hope we will get an agreed budget."

The Minister said that what she has proposed "will be a very difficult budget" and that it will be "really challenging" for each of the departments.

"My intention is to then move to the next phase of engagement with Treasury because what has been acknowledged is that we have been funded below need, that we have a level of need and that we need to be funded going forward to that level to allow us to deliver the type of public services that people expect and deserve," she continued.

"I do anticipate that there will be really difficult discussions with Executive colleagues because it is really challenging and it has been a process where I have engaged with Ministers and I have had to make difficult decisions around how to allocate that money and I have tried to allocate it according to our priorities as an Executive.

"Obviously health is our priority for the Executive. We know that there are significant challenges across all departments, in education for our children and young people, in justice but right across every single department Ministers are able to make the cases as to why they should be given more money and certainly I would like to be in the position to give them more money but we have a very limited pot of funding available so I hope that I have made the right decisions and I hope Ministers will be able to support the budget going forward."

First Minister Michelle O'Neill said that she hopes to meet the Treasury in the coming days.

"It is very challenging situation and the Finance Minister is absolutely right," she said. "We have to set a budget. Hopefully we can have that robust conversation because it is going to be quite difficult.

"The Finance Minister has pointed out the fact we have £3bn of bids for £1bn of funding so that makes it very difficult in terms of the choices that we have.

"This is the time for collective leadership, this is the time for us to work together to strike the budget and allow us to put the money into the Departments but then we intend to continue the conversation and we hope to have that Treasury meeting over the course of the coming days.

"We have to have a proper funding model. There is a real expectation that they need to rectify a wrong which has been 13 plus years of an austerity agenda that has decimated our public services."

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