There will be no public consultation on the Stormont budget of more than £10 billion, the NIO has said.
Responding to questions from the News Letter about the level of public and Parliamentary scrutiny which the crucial legislation will be subjected to, James Brokenshire’s department said that it would be primary legislation at Westminster which would have to travel through both the Commons and the Lords.
However, the government said that there would be no public consultation on the document and defended that decision by claiming that the content of the budget “will reflect the advice of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, who have sought to reflect as far as possible the priorities of the previous Executive”, and added: “As such, it would not be for the UK government to consult on its contents.”
The NIO added: “A Budget Bill would be a piece of primary legislation, which would be taken through both Houses. Subject to Parliament’s approval, it would give the Northern Ireland Civil Service certainty to continue to deliver public services for the rest of this financial year by giving the necessary legal authority to spend to existing plans.
“Detailed spending decisions would remain for the Northern Ireland Civil Service, or for a restored Executive upon its return, to take.”
In the Commons yesterday, Mr Brokenshire said: “The budget lines – the numbers that will go into the bill – will not be set by the House; we will be approving them.”
Former Labour direct rule minister David Hanson asked Mr Brokenshire: “If I were to table Parliamentary questions about the details of the budget after it has been agreed, would he answer those questions, or will he find another mechanism of accountability?”
The secretary of state did not directly answer his question as to who would be democratically accounatable for a budget which Mr Brokenshire says is simply the work of civil servants. He did say: “I acknowledge the presentation that the right honourable gentleman, with the experience of his role in Northern Ireland, makes about the challenges and the fact that this is not the outcome we want.”