It has been announced that an array of Stormont departments are to get a cash boost – but shock has been voiced that tens of millions of pounds earmarked for the health system will not be spent this year.
The news was announced by the Department of Finance on Monday, as part of its “final reallocations to key public services in 2017-18”.
The public funds being distributed amount to £23.3m-worth of “resource DEL” (departmental expenditure limit) money – effectively cash for day-to-day running costs.
Added to this is £10.1m of “capital DEL” – essentially money for infrastructure.
As far as the resource DEL cash goes, the Department of Education will receive an additional £14m, including £6m to support special educational needs; the Department for Infrastructure gets an extra £9.3m to aid Translink’s deficit.
The Department for Infrastructure will get £8.1m of capital DEL cash to support road maintenance and the purchase of new buses.
Smaller sums go to the Department for Communities (£1.6m to help maintain social housing) and The Executive Office (£400,000 to help the redevelopment of the Ebrington barracks project in Londonderry).
However, the statement announcing the move also said: “In November it was announced that £20m of the £50m resource funding available to support immediate pressures in health and education in the annex to the confidence-and-supply agreement (the deal between the DUP and the Tories) would be accessed in this year, with access to any further such funding in 2017-18 remaining under review.
“The department can now confirm that the remaining £30m will not be accessed in 2017/18.”
This is because it requires the approval of both parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
However, it can be moved back to next year’s budget, the finance department statement said.
UUP finance spokesman Steve Aiken MLA said “the terms of the DUP/Tory confidence and supply deal continue to be as clear as mud”.
When it comes to the cash earmarked for health which now cannot be spent, he said “we need to know if the absence of an Executive is going to prevent it from being drawn down in the next financial year”.
He added: “Given that health is at breaking point now – with hospitals under increasing pressure – it cannot be the case that this money sits just out of reach because some parties are holding up an Executive being formed.”
SDLP finance spokeswoman Claire Hanna MLA hailed the extra cash for schools and transport.
She added: “I am shocked, however, that given the very serious crisis in our health service and the significant winter pressures facing doctors, nurses and other frontline staff, that there was no bid for additional resource from the Department of Health.
“This week GPs in Northern Ireland called for politicians to do the job we were elected to do – with the Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland calling for urgent action to address GP shortages to protect patient care and services.
“The Ambulance Service, Fire Service and other frontline services under the Department of Health could have benefited from additional resource.
“It’s clear that our health service needs strategic political leadership. That can only come from a local minister in place, taking tough decisions and advancing the transformation plan.”
The Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry meanwhile said that the changes to funding amount to “minor housekeeping at the end of a difficult financial year”.