Finance Minister, Arlene Foster, provided an update on the inescapable financial pressures facing the Executive during today’s Question Time. The Minister revealed that “Departments have registered pressures in the June monitoring round of £234.6m on resource departmental expenditure limits (DEL) and £327.1m on capital DEL. A recent high-level assessment by my officials indicates that over £100m of these pressures are inescapable.” Added to this, failure to agree welfare reform has put at risk the budgetary flexibilities negotiated in the Stormont House Agreement.
Jo-Anne Dobson MLA also asked the Minister for an update on funding received by the Department from the Change Fund. The Draft Budget 2015-2016 announced the creation of the fund to “finance upfront investment in cross-cutting reform initiatives and preventative measures that are expected to generate savings in the longer term.” 120 bids were received from across the public sector amounting to approximately five times the value of the fund. Allocations were agreed by the Executive and the list of successful bids published in the Executive’s Budget 2015-2016. All selected projects have received funding and are at various stages of implementation. A mid-year update on progress has been sought. Mrs Foster indicated that she is “hopeful that it will deliver on the aims and objectives that were set out for the fund, which were, of course, to encourage innovation in the public sector; improve integration and collaboration between Departments, arm's-length bodies, the private sector and the third sector; support a decisive shift towards preventive spending with a focus on improving outcomes for citizens; and support transformational change required to sustain medium- to long-term efficiency measures.”
During Question Time the Minister answered a wide range of Members queries including questions on finance for social housing, departmental expenditure, the Arc21 project, public sector reform and the NAMA inquiry.