Finance minister: I was right to criticise Poots’ department

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Health Minister Edwin Poots

In a highly unusual move last week, Simon Hamilton criticised DUP colleague Edwin Poots’ department’s management of its budget.

Mr Hamilton said that the Department of Health had exceeded its budget by more than £13 million, something the finance minister said “was, in my view, due to poor budget management within the department”.

Mr Hamilton told the News Letter: “It was the right and sensible situation for [the department of finance] to criticise the Department of Health in the way that it did because of the budget management situation that was there.”

He said that he was “confident that from about October last year there has been a bearing down on this issue within the department [of health]” and highlighted his colleague’s almost £500m of efficiency savings since taking office. This monitoring round [where the budget is revised], we had agreed to give £20m to health. I wanted to give him more — the first paper I had submitted to the Executive wanted to give him £40m which would have been a quarter [of what Mr Poots wanted]...Sinn Fein actually didn’t want to agree to that.”

There have also been long-standing strains between the departments of finance and education. Mr Hamilton said that he and the education minister, John O’Dowd, got on “well” personally but “the departmental relationship is not as good as I would like it to be”.

He added: “There is just a tension there which he has allowed to develop and allowed to exacerbate, unfortunately.”

He said that education was the only department which refused to comply with an Executive agreed plan for efficiency savings.