Question Time - Regional Development Tuesday 09 December 2014

How will the Ministers departmental budgetary pressures impact on the winter service programme. This is the question asked by Mrs Dobson to the Minister at the start of Oral Question time.

The Minister explained that, "my Department has delivered £15 million of resource departmental expenditure limit (DEL) to meet the 4·4% budget reduction agreed by the Executive in 2014-15. These cuts were addressed through a number of savings measures including a series of measures to reduce my Department’s administration spend; reductions in funding to Translink; stopping external contractors' work on routine road maintenance, including patching, grass cutting and gully emptying; and suspending the use of external contractors for the repair of street lights that fail, unless they pose an electrical hazard to the public.

However, a number of pressures remain within my Department, the largest being the £20 million pressure in respect of the release of value from Belfast Harbour Commissioners. My Department’s budget was set, as part of Budget 2011-15, by the then Executive on the basis that £20 million of income would be secured from Belfast Harbour Commissioners in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. The Budget review group subsequently agreed that the Department should work collaboratively with Belfast Harbour Commissioners on release-of-value projects. While the Harbour has agreed to undertake £41·5 million of release-of-value projects and is progressing these, there is no means of crediting this investment to my Department’s budget. The Executive agreed that the shortfall should be addressed through in-year monitoring, and this was the case in 2013-14 when the Executive allocated £20 million to my Department during the year.

In September 2014, the Budget review group recommended that the Executive take the same steps. They have not yet done so, with my bids for the £20 million in June and October monitoring being unsuccessful. I am conscious of time, but this is important, so I claim your indulgence, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker. The next stage of resource measures available to me would involve cutting core front-line services, including some £3 million of funding for winter service activities. These measures directly affect public safety, including no gritting or snow clearing. I am simply not prepared to put the public at risk by stopping such services".

During Oral Question Time the Minister was also asked to outline the success of his Department's EU unit in increasing the draw down of EU funds, Mr Beggs asked the Minister for an update on the prce control process in relation to NI Water and Mr O Muilleoir asked for an update on the proposed York Street interchange.

The full transcript can been read here

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