Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 19 February 2001
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My Colleague Joan Carson and I tabled private notice questions in relation to job closure announcements in Newry and Enniskillen last week. Why have they not been included in today’s order of business?
The Member is entirely out of order, and he knows it. It is not in order to question such decisions. He is making assumptions that he and his Colleague were the only Members who put down such private notice questions.
Mr P Robinson:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A week ago the First Minister rose on a point of order on a matter relating to the Civic Forum. You stated that you would be prepared to consider the issue and that papers should be furnished to you. I know that I have done so. Can you confirm that the First Minister has done so? In assessing the status of the meeting of the Civic Forum on 20 December, I ask you to pay special attention to an e-mail sent from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister at 15.20 on that day, which referred to the meeting that was taking place at Balmoral. It said
"This is NOT the working group, but a group" —
I repeat: a group —
"to discuss the implications for the Programme for Government."
As the Member will be aware, I received some papers from him in the later part of last week. I have been studying those papers. I hope to receive the balance of the papers that were requested very soon and to be in a position to respond. I put it in that way at this stage — I do not want to say anything further. It may be that I will be in a position to respond tomorrow morning, but I cannot say that with finality. However, I hope to respond as soon as possible.
Mr P Robinson:
Is the Speaker saying that the First Minister, who was only two yards away from him last Monday, and who was waving papers that purported to be proof that there was a meeting of the Civic Forum, did not step forward to hand over the papers?
The Member will be very familiar with the practice of waving papers. I have not received all the papers that were referred to, but as soon as I do, or in any case, I will respond to the requests for rulings.
The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):
I beg leave to lay before the Assembly a Bill [NIA 10/00] to authorise the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of certain sums for the service of the years ending 31 March 2001 and 2002; to appropriate those sums for specified purposes and amend certain appropriations in aid for the year ending 31 March 2001; to authorise the Department of Finance and Personnel to borrow on the credit of the appropriated sums; and to authorise the use for the public service of certain resources for the year ending 31 March 2002.
The Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel has confirmed in writing that the requirements of Standing Order 40 have been fully met. Therefore, the Bill will proceed under the accelerated passage procedure. The Second Stage is on the Order Paper for tomorrow, 20 February.
Bill passed First Stage and ordered to be printed.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers):
I beg to move
That the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill [NIA 9/99] do now pass.
For the benefit of Members, I will summarise the reasons for introducing the Bill and its main provisions.
The collection of wild shellfish from the shores of Stangford Lough for commercial purposes has been increasing in recent years. Conservationists have raised concerns about the likely impact of that on the foreshore’s wildlife. Powers to regulate fishing activity on the foreshore are not currently available in Northern Ireland, and changes to existing fisheries legislation were therefore deemed necessary to permit the use of fisheries regulatory powers to control the collection of wild shellfish from the foreshore.
It was also considered necessary to amend existing fisheries legislation to provide fisheries regulators with powers to conserve and enhance the environment and to permit the trade and farming of salmon roe. Additionally, several measures in the existing legislation, relating to the issue of angling permits and licences had proved to be restrictive. The Bill amends the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 to provide the Department with powers to regulate fishing activity in the areas defined as Northern Ireland inshore waters, including the foreshore, by prohibiting fishing from, or by means of, vehicles or equipment of a specified description.
It also provides the Department with the power to regulate fishing activity for environmental purposes in line with its obligations under the EC Habitats Directive. These amendments will enable the Department to prohibit the use of mechanical harvesting equipment for collecting wild shellfish from the shores of Strangford Lough. They will, therefore, prevent damage to the wildlife that inhabits the foreshore in that area.
The Bill also amends several other provisions in the Act that relate to inland fisheries functions, which are the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Those amendments include the removal of the prohibition on the trade and farming of salmon roe while retaining the protection of wild stocks. That will result in the removal of the restriction on trade in a very viable product.
The Bill also strengthens the Fisheries Conservancy Board’s authority to conserve the environment by providing it with powers to regulate salmon fishing for environmental purposes. Those powers control the removal of material from rivers and reinstate in-river habitats that have been adversely affected as a result of pollution. It also provides the board with powers to make by-laws for the management and protection of fisheries and to issue angling licences at concessionary rates to certain categories of applicants, such as those with a disability.
Finally, I thank Members for their contribution to the debate on the Bill and, in particular, the Chairman and members of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee who carried out detailed scrutiny of the Bill and afforded my officials the opportunity to give evidence on the amendments. On behalf of my Colleague Mr McGimpsey, I thank the Chairman and members of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee for their work on those provisions in the Bill that deal with inland fisheries functions.
The Bill is very welcome, and it has benefited from the scrutiny of the two relevant Committees. The grilling that the Agriculture Committee gave the officials impressed me, and the Bill has improved as a result. As Members are aware, the Bill will prevent the use of mechanical means of harvesting shellfish. That is a particular problem on Strangford Lough. I am confident of great support for the radical improvement in the sanctions available to the Department for those who deliberately pollute our waterways.
However, it must be emphasised that the Bill will enable the Department only to make regulations to control those activities. Will the Minister tell us when those regulations will be published, for without them the Bill is toothless?
Will the regulations be subject to the negative or affirmative resolution of the House? That is also very important, because one procedure would enable the House to make amendments to the regulations, while the other would mean they would simply be rubber- stamped.
The Bill is to be welcomed, once those questions are answered. Many people are involved in the conservation of the marine habitat of Strangford Lough and other coastal waters in Northern Ireland and in maintaining high-quality fishing facilities in our inland waterways. I am sure that they will all breathe a lot easier once the Bill receives Royal Assent.
The regulations will be published as soon as possible following consultation, which will, of course, be very important. Consultation will involve all the interested parties. The regulations will be subject to negative resolution of the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill [NIA 9/99] do now pass.
The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):
I beg to move
That the Ground Rents Bill [NIA 6/99] do now pass.
I reiterate my thanks to the Finance and Personnel Committee for its scrutiny of the Bill.
In view of the short time allocated to the Final Stage of the Bill, I will keep my remarks brief. However, I confirm to Members who are not in the Finance and Personnel Committee that the 17 amendments agreed between it and me, and endorsed by the Assembly, in no way affect the underlying policy of the Bill. They do, however, improve the Bill’s operational effectiveness by clarifying measures such as the position of mortgage lenders and covenants used by the Housing Executive.
The central aim of the Bill is to simplify the conveyancing process by facilitating the move from leasehold to freehold ownership of residential property. Ultimately that will simplify the conveyancing process by getting rid of complex pyramid titles, which blight so much residential property in urban areas. Associated policy developments are the computerisation of the conveyancing process and the extension of compulsory first registration of title to all residential property. These changes cannot be achieved overnight and will take some time. I hope that Members will be patient in that regard.
In due course, I will bring before the Assembly the necessary associated Land Registry rules and the draft Order that will set the multiplier.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Finance and Personnel Committee (Mr Leslie):
The Minister is aware that I raised some issues at Consideration Stage about schedule 1 and his proposals for calculating the multiplier. Owing to a slight misunderstanding between the Minister and me, we were unable to address those issues at Further Consideration Stage. The Minister has just said that a draft Order will be brought forward to deal with the setting of the multiplier. Would the Minister care to comment on any of the remarks that I made two weeks ago? Essentially, I did not feel that his proposal to set a multiplier of nine represented fair replacement investment value for the loss of a ground rent. I proffered different mathematical formulae that I felt would address that and which would raise the multiplier by two or three notches. Will the Minister address those issues before we finish with the Bill?
As there are no further requests to speak, I call the Minister to wind up.
Mr Leslie has raised some points that have been aired previously, including during Consideration Stage. The Bill will require and allow the Minister of Finance and Personnel to keep the multiplier under consideration. However, notwithstanding Mr Leslie’s insights, I am not minded at this stage to opt for a multiplier other than nine. The advice that I have suggests that that is fair and reasonable and it would be wrong for me to tell either Mr Leslie or the House otherwise. That will be determined beyond the Bill when the necessary Order comes forward.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Ground Rents Bill [NIA 6/99] do now pass.
I would like to explain how I propose to conduct the debate on the two motions on the Order Paper. I shall ask the Minister to move the first motion, after which we will debate both. In other words, there will be a single debate. It has been referred to by one Member as the "Dan to Beersheba" debate because of the range of matters that may be raised. At the end of the debate, the House will vote on the first motion. The Minister will then move the second motion formally, and the House will vote on it. Members will be aware that that business must be completed by five o’clock, when we will have the Adjournment debate.
The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan): I beg to move
That the Assembly approves that a further sum not exceeding £195,599,000 be granted out of the Consolidated Fund to complete or defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31 March 2001 for expenditure by Northern Ireland Departments, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Northern Ireland Audit Office, the Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints and the Office for the Regulation of Electricity and Gas.
The following motion stood in the Order Paper:
That the Assembly approves that a sum not exceeding £3,806,414,000 be granted out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, for or towards defraying the charges for Northern Ireland Departments, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Northern Ireland Audit Office, the Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints and the Office for the Regulation of Eectricity and Gas for the year ending 31 March 2002 and that resources not exceeding £4,305,870,000 be authorised, on account, for use by Northern Ireland Departments, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Northern Ireland Audit Office, the Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints and the Office for the Regulation of Electricity and Gas for the year ending 31 March 2002. — [Mr Durkan]
Before embarking on the main debate, I wish to acknowledge the Finance and Personnel Committee’s confirmation that it has been consulted on the spending plans reflected in these motions. The Committee has shown keen and proper interest in finance issues, and I look forward to its further constructive and incisive involvement.
The resolutions moved have two purposes. The first seeks the approval of the Assembly to the issue of a further sum of £196 million from the Consolidated Fund for the 2000-01 financial year — as detailed in the spring Supplementary Estimates booklet. The second seeks the approval of the Assembly to the issue of a cash sum of £3,806 million on account for the 2001-02 financial year. It also seeks the authority of the Assembly for the use of resources amounting to £4,306 million on account in the 2001-02 financial year.
I will remind the Assembly about the significance of the resolutions for which I am seeking its support. These resolutions are the basis upon which the legislature — in the form of this Assembly — authorises the spending of Departments, the Assembly itself, the Northern Ireland Audit Office and other bodies for the carrying out of their various functions. One of our fundamental responsibilities is to authorise expenditure and to hold Departments to account for how the money is used. This is one of the main means that we have to ensure that we deliver on our agreed plans and, in due course, deliver the Programme for Government when it has been approved.
The scope of the debate covers expenditure in both 2000-01 and 2001-02. The first of the two resolutions is the means by which Supplementary Estimates can be examined by the Assembly. This is the main means of implementing and confirming the decisions made by the Executive on the allocation of resources brought forward from 1999-2000 under the end-year flexibility arrangements, on the reallocation of resources through the in-year monitoring rounds in June, October and December, and on the Agenda for Government, as announced in the summer.
The second resolution is the usual means by which, at this point in the financial cycle, the ongoing commitments of Departments are authorised during the period between the beginning of the 2001-02 financial year and the presentation to the Assembly of the Main Estimates for that year. In general, the cash and resource amounts required on account have been calculated as 45% of the forecast 2001-02 Main Estimate requirement, based on the Budget that was agreed by the Executive and approved by the Assembly last December.
As its name suggests, the Vote on Account is not intended to seek the Assembly’s final approval of the allocations for 2001-02, since less than half the total proposed budget is being sought in the Budget Bill. It seeks sufficient resources and cash to allow services to proceed until the detailed work on the Main Estimates has been completed in the late spring. At that stage, there will be a full opportunity to deal with the details of the spending plans for 2001-02, and, given the switch to Resource Estimates, I propose that there should be prior discussion between my Department and the Finance and Personnel Committee on the Main Estimates over the next few months. Therefore for today’s purposes, I propose to focus on the issues relating to 2000-01, as this is the last major opportunity for discussion on this matter before the end of the financial year. It is important that I draw out for the Assembly some aspects of the Estimates that differ from the position on the Budget and the monitoring rounds.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)
First, the Estimates include all aspects of departmental expenditure that are subject to appropriation under the cash regime and which will be subject to the authorisation of resources in the resource accounting regime. That means that they include annually managed expenditure (AME), as well as expenditure that falls within the departmental expenditure limit (DEL). Because we receive automatic adjustment of estimated requirements for annually managed expenditure from the Treasury — and must return any unrequired resources to the Treasury — these items are not included in the scope of the public expenditure monitoring rounds that we conduct and which I have announced on several occasions to the Assembly.
The main items that fall into that category are social security benefits, some of which are subject to annual appropriation or authorisation. Others are charged under legislation to the National Insurance fund, and hence do not feature in the voting process. Expenditure under the Common Agricultural Policy falls into the same category because it is fully funded by the European Agriculture Guarantee and Guidance Fund.
As well as those AME items, there are some aspects of expenditure that are nominally attached to the departmental expenditure limit, but that are ring-fenced by the Treasury. As we have no discretion in the use of those resources, they have also not been included in the context of our monitoring rounds. They include expenditure under the Peace I programme, and the special addition that was provided some years ago to cover the cost of the Moyle electricity interconnector.
I have already mentioned that some social security expenditure is handled outside the voting system because there are standing authorisations, in the form of specific legislation, that allow money to be drawn from the Consolidated Fund, or another fund, to provide a service. A further example arises when a Department makes a loan under some statutory power. Very often, under the cash regime, the issue of the loan will count towards the DEL, but in some cases it will not need to come through the Estimates and voting system, because there is some standing authorisation for the making of loans outside the vote.
Some of the important sources of room to manoeuvre are outside the appropriation system. In particular, receipts from house sales are outside the Department for Social Development votes. The total that determines what we can do is the DEL, which is set by the Treasury. The house sales release some of that spending power, which makes it possible to afford an increase in the cash spending, and hence helps us to afford these Supplementary Estimates.
The convention is that the Estimates are not reduced as the year progresses, even if the Department concerned is clear that not all spending will be required. By their nature, the figures are estimates, and the sense of the resolution is that the Executive and the Departments are seeking spending authorisation up to the figure quoted in the Estimates.
Alongside the Estimates control regime, which operates on behalf of the Assembly, there are administrative controls. Decisions made by the Executive on the distribution of the Budget through monitoring rounds are reflected in clearly stated departmental expenditure limit figures for each Department. Those are issued following each monitoring round and become the cash ceiling that the Executive authorise. The system depends on those two controls working together, and it is a major function of my Department to ensure that those controls are brought together and that the detailed figure work is reconciled.
The final complication that I need to mention is that there can be agreed transfers of resources between Departments, or between Departments of the Executive and the Northern Ireland Office, or between Departments here and Departments in Whitehall. By convention, if responsibility for a function is transferred, the DEL spending provision transfers with it. In other areas, such as student support, there can be a need to allow resources to follow the pattern of demand on an agreed basis.
Those factors are important, because they affect how the figures that are discussed and set out in the Budget planning documents and in the monitoring rounds, are, in the end, reflected in the final amounts that need to be authorised for issue from the Consolidated Fund to cover the approved expenditure. That is undeniably complex, but essential to meet the twin requirements that we keep expenditure within the departmental expenditure limit, as set by the Treasury, and seek authorisation for no greater amount of cash expenditure than is set out in the Estimates.
This is the first time that the Assembly has dealt with Supplementary Estimates. This time last year, the entire process of approving the Appropriation Order was dealt with in three hours in a Standing Committee of the House of Commons. This is also the last occasion on which we will seek appropriation of cash as the sole manifestation of Assembly control of expenditure. We are planning a transition to resource accounting and budgeting, subject to final approval of the Government Resources and Accounts Bill.
The Main Estimates for 2000-01 were considered and approved by the Assembly last June. The Estimates provided the detailed basis for the allocation and use of resources for the purposes prescribed. The Estimates were followed by in-year monitoring rounds in June, October and December, as a result of which changes were made to the allocations. The changes were made possible by the distribution of additional money received from the Treasury; the revised treatment of rate rebates; and the redistribution of easements in the spending plans for certain areas, which included increased receipts.
The changes have been accompanied by detailed statements at each stage and form the basis of the details set out in the booklets that have been made available to Members. Although it was not possible to have prior consultation with the Finance and Personnel Committee before announcing the Executive’s decisions in the monitoring rounds, my officials and I have been available to explain the position. Apart from the late addition of £18 million to the budget for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, which was made last week, there has been scope for scrutiny following each monitoring round.
The total figure for the Supplementary Estimates is £195,599,000. That will be used to defray charges that fall due for payment during the year ending 31 March 2001. The detailed allocations contained in the booklet have been determined by Departments, following careful consideration and approval by the Department of Finance and Personnel. Departmental Ministers will be better placed than I to explain and justify the detail, but I will try to deal with the matters raised by Members. If I am unable to answer, I will refer the matter to the relevant Minister for more detailed consideration.
The decisions taken following the monitoring rounds provide a picture of how that figure of almost £196 million is made up. For the reasons that I have given, the reallocated amounts do not correspond exactly to the net surplus figures that followed the monitoring rounds, because a number of technical adjustments were made at those stages. However, during the monitoring rounds, Departments declared £148 million as easements, and that figure was weighed against bids for additional resources totalling £418 million. There is some double counting in the figures for bids; bids that are unsuccessful in one round are likely to be repeated later. However, the figures help to illustrate the process, and I will say more about how that relates to the allocations to individual Departments.
Some of the changes relate to departmental running costs. Restructuring costs of £9 million were met from resources carried forward from the previous financial year. That was necessary to ensure that the new Departments had sufficient administration resources to implement the Programme for Government.
As was the case with the approval of the Main Estimates last June and the agreement of the Budget for 2001-02 in December, decisions about the allocation of resources have been influenced by the equality requirements set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and the requirements of New TSN, the Programme for Government and the Executive programme funds. We must keep such considerations in mind, for they will shape spending strategy and will bring about the changes and improvements that we wish to see emerge from the significant resource commitments for which the Assembly is responsible.
I know from the interest demonstrated by Members and Committees, especially the Committee for Finance and Personnel, that this is not a responsibility that is assumed lightly. As an Executive and Assembly, we have a duty to ensure the highest standards of propriety with regard to public expenditure. That is an important aspect of the authorisation, management and control of expenditure by the Assembly and by individual Departments and the bodies funded by them. The efficient use of resources is no less important as that is the means by which the greatest amount of goods and services can be provided for the community that we serve with the resources available.
Those are, of course, matters in which the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have a particular interest. They are able to examine how public sector bodies perform in meeting their objectives, doing so with due regard to propriety and efficiency. As Minister of Finance and Personnel, I acknowledge the important function they perform. I also express my appreciation for the interest, proposals and work of the Committee for Finance and Personnel, which has been assiduous in considering financial and other issues, often at very short notice.
Turning to the allocations for individual Departments, I will begin with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In Vote A, which provides for Northern Ireland expenditure on national agriculture support measures, a net £8·1 million is sought. That includes £7·1 million for the special aid package, payable under the less favoured area compensatory allowances, and £1 million to cover higher than anticipated demand for the environmentally sensitive areas scheme. In addition, £29 million is agrimonetary compensation for the arable and beef sectors. That is annually managed expenditure outside the scope of our monitoring rounds, and is offset by a reduction of £3 million for less favoured area compensatory allowances, which will be paid from guarantee funds, fully funded by the Intervention Board Executive Agency. Agrimonetary compensation is designed to offset the effects of currency appreciation on agricultural support prices and compensation payments, which are set in euros.
In Vote B, which provides for local agriculture support measures, a net increase of £24·8 million is sought. That includes £16·7 million for controlling outbreaks of animal diseases, including brucellosis and tuberculosis, which was announced in June and October monitoring, and £2·2 million for business and environmental training of farmers in less-favoured areas, most of which was allocated in the June round.
In the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, a net increase of £7·7 million is sought in Vote A. That includes £2·1 million to tackle health and safety issues at sports grounds, £0·9 million for the completion of capital works for the Odyssey Millennium Landmark project, announced in June monitoring, and £1 million for capital investment in public libraries, announced in the October monitoring round. Other additions include provision to meet pressures from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and for museums, the Northern Ireland Millennium Company, and to allow for essential research and consultancy costs.
Moving to the Department of Education, an increase of some £7·8 million is sought. There is an increase of £20·1 million for capital works and repairs to schools, of which £6·2 million was provided under the Agenda for Government in June monitoring. One and a half million pounds is being provided for primary school reading schemes, as announced in October monitoring, and £0·6 million is allocated to provide gap funding for certain EU Peace I projects, pending the allocation of Peace II funds — both of those additions are under the Agenda for Government. There are also additions of: £3·3 million for school fuel costs, announced in October and December monitoring; £1 million for the purchase of school buses; £1 million for energy efficiency measures; £5 million for the EU Peace I projects; and £0·75 million for the Irish-medium trust fund, recently announced in December monitoring. Those increases are offset principally by reduced requirements of £25·5 million as a result of slippage into 2001-02 of expected spending on teachers’ pay and on information and communications technology provision for schools.
With respect to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, a token increase in vote A and a substantive increase in Vote B are being sought. In Vote A, a token £1,000 is being sought by the Industrial Development Board (IDB) to cover self-adjusting changes, where any increased requirements are offset by savings.
Thus, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is not seeking any extra spending power at this time. By including a token estimate of £1,000, we are able to bring to the Assembly’s attention the adjustments within the Department’s previous total allocations that have emerged as the year has progressed. Those include an addition of almost £1 million for the European peace and reconciliation programme.
In Vote B, which covers other economic support measures, such as administration, energy and miscellaneous services, a net increase of £12·1 million is required. That includes: £9·9 million carried forward from 1999-2000 under the end-year flexibility arrangements for the Moyle interconnector; £6·3 million for the European Peace and Reconciliation Programme; and £2·5 million for expenditure on the Information Age Initiative, which was announced last July, and the venture capital fund. Some offsetting savings have been declared elsewhere in the Vote.
With respect to the Department of the Environment, a net increase of £4 million is being sought. Of that amount, £1·7 million is for grants to maintain historic buildings, which was allocated in the October and December monitoring rounds, and £1·4 million is for increased grants in support of district councils, the bulk of which was allocated in the October monitoring round. The remainder is in respect of additional costs for more road safety education officers; planners to progress the area plans; the full resourcing of the planning appeals commission; and for providing additional resources for environmental services.
As regards the Department for Regional Development, a net increase of £7·7 million is being sought for Vote A, covering expenditure on roads, transport and other services. The main items are: £7·5 million for roads maintenance, most of which was announced in the December round; almost £2 million towards the capital cost of a replacement ferry for the Strangford ferry service; and an additional £2·6 million for running costs in the Roads Service, provided in the October monitoring round.
An extra £6 million is being sought in respect of the railways public service obligation grants, announced in June, and £2·7 million for railways capital provided in the December monitoring round. A further £2·1 million is needed for bus fare concessions, bus fuel duty rebates and rural transport. These increases are partially offset by a reduction of capital spending on roads, a decrease in public liability claims and by increased receipts.
In Vote B, which covers expenditure on the Water Service and related services, a net increase of £5·7 million is being sought. The main items are: £3·2 million allocated in the June monitoring round to meet the increased costs of sludge disposal; £1·7 million additional costs associated with flooding emergencies and the cryptosporidiosis outbreak during late summer 2000; and £1·6 million for running costs, which were provided in the October monitoring round. The increases are partially offset by an increase of £2·5 million in receipts.
As regards the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, a token vote of £1,000 is sought in Vote A, again so that the attention of the Assembly can be drawn to adjustments within the Department’s allocations. This mainly involves an increase of £3·9 million for mandatory student awards provided for in the October monitoring round, which is offset by reduced requirements on student loans and from slippage for capital works at the Springvale campus.
In Vote B, a net increase of £194,000 is sought. The main increase of £6·6 million is to provide gap funding to sustain projects under the old single programme, which need transitional support pending the allocation of funds under the Transitional Objective 1 programme.
That is offset by reduced requirements on Worktrack and other training related programmes and through efficiencies gained from the amalgamation of Government training centres with further education colleges.
For the Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety, an additional net provision of £43·4 million is sought in Vote A for expenditure on the health and personal social services programme. The increases consolidate the additional funds made available to the Health Service at each monitoring round. They include £19 million towards winter and other hospital pressures; £7 million for community health and personal social services; and £3 million to meet commitments carried forward from last year. A further £18 million is now included to help eliminate the deficits of the health and social services trusts, as announced last week.