Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 3 December 2001


Revised Budget (2002-03)

North/South Ministerial Council: Food Safety and Health Sector

Oral Answers to Questions

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Department of Employment and Learning

Department for Social Development

Executive Programme Funds

Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Draft Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill


The Assembly met at noon (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Revised Budget (2002-03)


Mr Speaker:

I have received notice from the Minister of Finance and Personnel that he wishes to make a statement on the revised Budget.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):

Mr Speaker, with permission, I will make a statement about the Executive’s revised Budget for 2002-03 and the Executive’s approach to the spending review next year.

The Budget statement, as opposed to the Budget document, contains some amended figures. An addendum with those changes has been sent to the Business Office, and a full revised version of the statement will be available to Members as soon as possible. This does not affect any of the Budget document figures.

The plans I am announcing today will underpin the Programme for Government, which has been sent to all Members this morning. The Executive have set clear priorities for action in the Programme for Government, and these are fully reflected in the Budget.

When I introduced the Executive’s position report in June and the draft Budget in September, I made it clear that 2002 was a transitional year in which the Executive’s Budget planning would be limited by the total resources made available by the Treasury in last year’s spending review. In December 2000 the Executive published indicative allocations for all public services for 2002-03, and these have been reviewed during the Budget process. The Executive are working within the same total, apart from additional allocations as a result of the Chancellor’s recent announcement — to which I will return later. Despite the absence of any significant change in the resources available, the Executive are determined to make a specific mark through the Budget for 2002-03.

It may be helpful if I remind Members about some of the features of the draft Budget presented in September. The Executive had £42·8 million available for allocation. This amount came from the Chancellor’s March Budget and as a result of reduced departmental requirements. The Executive proposed to supplement that amount with £48 million of planned carry-over from the in-year monitoring rounds in 2001-02. These amounts, together with a small reduction of £1·8 million in the indicative allocation for the Department for Social Development, gave the Executive £92·6 million to allocate.

In making use of this money, the Executive gave significant priority to health, schools and roads in the draft Budget plans. This is confirmed in the revised proposals I am announcing today. The Executive have been able to increase allocations for 2002-03 by £37·2 million and have been able to boost health spending in 2001-02 by £8 million. Later today I will announce the Executive’s decisions on the second round of allocations from the Executive programme funds. Taken together, these decisions will show that the Executive have acted clearly and decisively to address some of the key Programme for Government objectives.

The Executive have been determined to increase scope for comment and consultation on this year’s Budget process. Of course, Statutory Committees can question and analyse spending issues at any time. They do not need to await a starting pistol from me or from any Minister in order to initiate scrutiny on what areas Departments are spending money on, or on whether public services are serving the public in the best possible way. The range of issues that could be expressed will undoubtedly far exceed the time and scope available to Committees, even within the extended timetable for the Budget process. I encourage Committees to have an ongoing and continuous agenda of scrutiny in relation to aspects of spending programmes, including planning and targeting.

To facilitate the process of consultation and scrutiny, the Executive put forward a position report in June 2001 to draw out the main features of spending plans and provide a structured starting point for discussion. That was to ensure that when the draft Budget was presented in September, the Executive were not starting cold and that people in the Assembly and in the community could view the proposals against the backcloth of the issues that were presented in the position report.

Many people have responded positively and carefully to the Budget proposals presented in September. In particular, I thank the Committee for Finance and Personnel, which has brought together a timely and important report, drawing out some major themes from its own deliberations and the comments and recommendations received from other Statutory Committees. On behalf of the Executive I thank the other Committees for their contribution to this important process. I hope that they share my belief that it has been a better process than was possible last year. Nevertheless, there are further lessons to be learnt from this cycle, and they will be valuable lessons in what will be an important process next year. I will talk more about that shortly.

I would be surprised if anyone who has attended any of our discussions on financial issues in recent weeks would disagree that there is extensive concern about the current level of health expenditure. Health and personal social services represent 40% of our expenditure. The Executive gave significant prioritisation to health spending in the draft Budget. Demands and expectations on health services in societies such as ours are expanding rapidly. People rightly want the best standard of care, treatment and service available for themselves and their loved ones to alleviate suffering, improve life expectancy and provide dignity and comfort in extreme circumstances.

The Executive have increased spending on health significantly since devolution. In 2002-03, spending will be £687 million more, or 37% higher, than it was in 1998-99. We also provided non-recurrent additions of £48 million during 2000-01 and £42 million in the two monitoring rounds so far in 2001-02.

These amounts are large, but the bulk of the extra money is required to meet the cost of providing essential services. The fact that the Executive have provided extra funding when we have many other demands for spending on public services shows clearly the importance we attach to the Health Service.

We have allocated to health everything that came to us via Barnett from the increases attributable to it in England in last year’s spending review, and more. However, because of the arithmetic of the Barnett formula, it still did not result in as big a percentage as that of the previous year in England. Yet the Health Service here has to address greater needs and hence costs more than it does in England. We must look at how it is managed and organised, and the Executive have asked for extensive work to be done on that.

The Department of Finance and Personnel, the Economic Policy Unit and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety are engaged in the most extensive and thorough analysis of health needs and expenditure that has been undertaken in Northern Ireland for many years. We depend on the health needs and effectiveness evaluation for guidance on how best to spend money on health in the future and to provide clear understanding of the differences between what happens here and elsewhere. For many years it was thought that health spending and standards of service were relatively high here. There is no doubt that they have been eroded over recent years. We cannot take that lightly, and thoughtful analysis and discussion are needed.

It is not enough simply to put money into the Health Service. Many people rightly ask how the resources that have already been provided have been used. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has provided detailed information on that, and the evaluation process will continue to explore it.

As with all public services, there are problems with management and efficiency which must be addressed. The way in which the services are organised begs many questions. Hard choices must be made which will affect the standard of care and the nature of hospital provision in the region. We must address these issues seriously and thoughtfully. The Executive, no less than the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, are determined to find the best way to proceed.

Last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an additional £1 billion for the Health Service in the United Kingdom. As a result, we have received a Barnett amount of £27·8 million. Although we heard of this only after we had taken our own main decisions, the Executive moved quickly to confirm the way ahead. We are not obliged to make use of money from Barnett for the same purpose as such money is used in England — that is central to the point of devolution. No matter what we think of it otherwise, the Barnett system gives us the distinct advantage of regional discretion as a devolved Administration.

In the case of the Health Service, we have decided on an increase in funding which is significantly larger than the amount provided by the Treasury. Making use of our allocations — including the Executive programme fund allocations that I will announce later today — and new money from the Treasury, we are providing an extra £41 million over and above the amounts that were announced in the draft Budget. We are also acting straight away. Members may recall that the increase for health which was proposed in the draft Budget was made possible only by planning to carry over some money from 2001-02. Of the total of £48 million that we planned to handle in that way, £31·1 million was for health. Because of the additional provision that we are making for 2002-03, we can add £8 million to the health budget this year instead of holding it back until 2002-03. This means that the service and, more importantly, those in need of treatment and care can begin to benefit immediately from the extra money.

I emphasise that that has been made possible through the Executive’s planned additions to the health budget for next year. While the pre-Budget report has allowed those plans to be accelerated and the scale to be increased, we will not simply play follow-my-leader with the Treasury. The result is that the allocation for health in 2002-03 will be £72 million higher than the figures in the June position report, including the Executive programme fund allocations that I will announce this afternoon.

12.15 pm

Despite very tight constraints, we have met more than half the health bids that were lodged at the time of the position report. Compared with the plans made this time last year for 2001-02, and including the two rounds of allocations from the Executive programme funds, there will be an increase of £224 million or 9·7%. On 25 September I explained that those figures include £19 million that was transferred from the social security budget. Thus, the true cash increase is £205 million or 8·9%. As in the past, most of that money is needed to cover rises in the costs of providing services, such as inflation rises over which we have limited control. However, it will provide some £41 million of service development for health and personal social services.

The new money will be used to provide several particular developments, including some £13 million for community services, which will allow additional community care places for older people. That will address some issues that have been raised about the appropriateness of care and the effect of deficiencies in community care on acute hospitals. It is vital that hospitals can use their services as effectively as possible, but that is difficult if the community care needs of older people are not being met.

An additional £12·4 million is being allocated to enable hospitals to address some critical issues, including the treatment of heart disease and cancer and the provision of extra beds so that more patients can receive urgent treatment. A further £2 million is being provided for much-needed children’s services and family services, especially for the most vulnerable people.

I am pleased to confirm that we can now proceed with the introduction of free nursing care for the elderly, subject to the necessary legislation’s being passed through the Assembly. That will cost some £4·5 million for 2002-03, although the full cost for the year will be about £9 million. That will surely be welcomed by all who care about the interests of older people.

The Executive’s proposals represent a major commitment to meeting the needs of the Health Service. No one pretends that those additions, substantial though they are, will solve all the problems in the Health Service. We must also take account of the important work on health funding and management that is being done in both England and the South to develop the best strategy for our context. How we proceed for the longer term remains to be decided. We must take account of the available resources and the conclusions of the needs and effectiveness evaluation next year.

There are only a few other changes from the spending allocations in the draft Budget. I confirm that the £2 million required by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for the cost of job evaluation in libraries will be provided. As I briefly explained in my statement on the September monitoring rounds, it has become clear, through a job evaluation exercise undertaken by the education and library boards, that the pay of junior library personnel will have to be increased. The boards made a commitment to backdate the job evaluation to 1 January 1995. Now that that process is complete, those payments will be made. It was clearly impossible for the libraries’ budget to absorb that substantial additional cost. Several Members had concerns about that when the September monitoring round was announced. However, it represents a clear contractual entitlement based on an objective evaluation of the library staff’s work.

In addition, it is now possible to restore the £2 million of provision for the Department of the Environment’s resources grant to district councils. That will avoid the need for a reduction, and it will bring the increase for that Department’s budget up to 10% when compared to provision in 2001-02. The Executive concluded that it would be desirable to use the flexibility that has become available to ensure that full assistance to the poorest council areas is restored.

We have added £1·4 million to the social inclusion/ community regeneration fund to provide for a Department of Education bid for provision for primary two classroom assistants. That will be covered in detail in my statement on the Executive programme funds this afternoon.

The additional allocations in 2002-03 amount to £37·2 million, which, together with the £8 million for health in 2001-02, makes a total of £45·2 million. The resources required to cover those additions come from four sources. These are: the additional £27·8 million from the pre-Budget report, which we are allocating to health; the £5·4 million that has been made available through a reclassification of some costs relating to Laganside; the setting of targets for Departments to increase asset sales in 2002-03 by £5 million, which will release additional resources; and our anticipation that £7 million will be found from reduced requirements in some departmental allocations at a relatively early stage in 2002-03.

For the remaining Departments, and for the North/South bodies, the allocations agreed by the Executive in the revised Budget remain as proposed in September. The plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council on Friday 30 November adopted an initial opinion on the budgets for the six bodies for 2002. Those are reflected in the Budget proposals before the Assembly and will be kept under review in the in-year monitoring process, as will those for Departments.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s allocation will be £204 million, which includes provision for BSE testing.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment will have a total of £256 million, although, as I indicated on 25 September, that will be kept under review to take account of the implications of changes in the economic context.

With an allocation of £117 million, the Department of Finance and Personnel will be funded to provide the central finance and personnel functions and the necessary support services for Departments and the public for which it is responsible.

The £619 million allocated to the Department for Employment and Learning will provide for the planned expansion of further and higher education places and measures to broaden access to further and higher education.

The Department for Regional Development has a 14·8% increase over its 2001-02 allocation, which includes substantial provision for the purchase of new trains. That is a clear demonstration of the priority that we are giving to roads and transport. The Chancellor’s decision to phase in the aggregates tax will lead to a cost saving for the Department, which shows that a difference can be made by ensuring that the Treasury addresses the regional consequences of taxation measures.

The Department for Social Development’s budget of £450 million represents a 7·5% increase over the 2001-02 provision. It includes substantial provision for welfare reform and modernisation, as well as for housing measures.

The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will have a budget of £33 million, which includes provision for key research on equality and policy effectiveness.

Some pressure has been applied, especially by the Committee for Finance and Personnel, and comment has been made that departmental estimating processes are not as good as they should be and that there is a pattern of monitoring rounds yielding additional room to manoeuvre. That is indeed the case, and the Executive are well aware of the issues that that highlights.

We will consider carefully, in the course of next year’s spending review, how best to take account of the pattern of underspending, and we will take steps to ensure that our resource planning is as effective and sound as possible. Money should be directed to where it is really needed, and our priorities should be fulfilled. The pattern of recent monitoring rounds suggests that it is entirely prudent to make use of a sum on the scale of £7 million.

However, there are always some uncertainties that cannot be covered in the Budget allocations. These include some technical issues in the expenditure of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive that may give rise to monitoring bids next year. These, and the routine costs of the Departments, non-departmental public bodies and the North/South bodies must be taken into account. The possibility of developments in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s budget, which is always more difficult to predict than the more routine recurrent budgets of other Departments, must also be taken into account.

In September, we decided to plan on the basis that some underspending would be carried from this year to next year in order to part-finance next year’s plans. That is necessary to ensure that the cost pressures identified for the year ahead can be covered adequately. It is a responsible use of the end-year flexibility arrangements that are designed to make the best use of the resources available, rather than their being drawn to areas of opportunity as opposed to areas of priority. In next year’s spending review, we must consider how best to adapt that approach for the future.

That concludes my proposals for the spending allocations for 2002-03. They represent a clear statement of the Executive’s determination to address the problems in the Health Service and to maximise the resources available to public services. As Minister of Finance and Personnel, I am in favour of public services, and I believe that my successor will carry forward the determined work to ensure that we can make the most of our Budget.

I remind the Assembly that there will be a full-scale spending review by the Treasury next year. It will address the spending plans for the period from 2003-04 to 2005-06. Our work, within our departmental expenditure limit will take place in that context. The review is likely to affect the total resources available to us in that period. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that we cannot expect as rapid a period of growth in spending as has been the case since 1999-2000, which was the first year of the plans set in the 1998 comprehensive spending review.

In many ways, the devolved Administration had the good fortune of coming into office when spending was growing rapidly. As I said on 25 September, we cannot expect that to continue, and we must be able to adapt our ways to deal with a different situation.

The Executive are determined to use the opportunity of next year’s spending review to make a clear and significant difference to spending plans for Northern Ireland’s public services. The work will be informed by the needs and effectiveness evaluations. These already cover health, schools, vocational education and training, industry and housing and amount to 70% of the total departmental expenditure limit. The Executive recently agreed that there should also be a study of the programmes of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

In addition to these six evaluations, we will take account of the work on the future of the agrifood sector by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s vision group and the work of the Department for Regional Development on the regional transportation strategy. These strands of detailed analysis, together with the usual processes of bidding and scrutiny for all services, will ensure that the spending review will be truly fundamental.

A spending review should mean change — changing priorities to take account of what our society needs and wants most. We have an immense responsibility to address that seriously and thoughtfully. The answers are not obvious, nor will the decisions be easy.

12.30 pm

To emphasise our determination to make a difference, we are publishing indicative minima, rather than spending plans, for allocations to Departments for 2003-04. We have taken about £125 million from the previous departmental indicative figures. That will be held by the Executive for allocation next September following a thorough root-and-branch analysis of where the money is needed most. It will take time for Departments, Executive Ministers, Assembly Committees and others to work through the analysis. The process is likely to lead to radical decisions being made on spending allocations. I invite the Assembly to view the process as beginning today. It is a major challenge that will give us a substantial opportunity to make our mark on public services.

The amounts allocated to all Departments for 2003-04 are well below the amounts required to sustain the level of service that we propose for 2002-03. That does not mean that we intend to make spending cuts. On the contrary, we are determined to ensure the growth of public services, so we need to ask which programmes need resources most and in what areas we most want to develop public services. It is likely that some reductions will be required in areas in which money can be better used in new or different ways. Certain objectives that took priority may have been broadly achieved. We do not look for change for change’s sake, but for change that will benefit public services.

We have calculated the indicative minima in ways that take account of each aspect of the Budget. We have also taken into account the spending patterns that will be set in 2002-03; those include some substantial changes from the current year. It follows that the indicative plans that we published last year are no longer valid and need a radical overhaul. Spending can go down as well as up. That does not mean that something was wrong — it simply shows that priorities change, and we must adjust if we are to respond to need and get the best from the public services.

I shall not detail how the indicative figures were derived. It suffices to say that they take account of the characteristics of Budgets — pay bills are difficult to change quickly, and it is easier to make adjustments to capital.

In setting the indicative minima, we have held back a lower proportion of the amounts allocated to health and schools. That recognises the fact that, as well as having the characteristics that apply to all Departments, those two services are particular priorities, and it would be unrealistic to hold back a substantial percentage of the amounts set aside for them. However, there is no question of their facing less demanding scrutiny. On the contrary, we have given priority to them in the needs and effectiveness evaluations, because it is vital that their large share of the Budget is used as effectively as possible. Evaluations become more important as the amounts increase.

I must emphasise that the amount held for allocation, which we call the Executive’s SR2002 allocation, is in two distinct parts: one for resources and one for capital. That shows our determination to ensure that the amount for capital will be allocated to capital. If possible, we should seek to move some provision from resources to capital to increase the level of activity. That could proceed in conjunction with further work on public-private partnerships (PPPs), depending on the conclusions that we reach after the PPP review next year.

In setting indicative minima, our approach included all the Departments of the Executive and the North/ South bodies. I invite the appropriate authorities in the Assembly to consider whether a similar approach to the spending of the Assembly and the Northern Ireland Audit Office might be appropriate, so that next year’s spending review makes the best possible plans for the longer term.

The next spending review will mark the end of the beginning of devolution. The conclusions that we reach this time next year will give us a new direction that will assist us in 2005-06. That will coincide with the conclusion of the existing round of EU structural funds. It will be a vital period of planning for our society, one in which we can address the major economic and social issues that affect our region. The Executive remain determined to deliver on the objectives set out in the Programme for Government, and it will become increasingly clear that our spending plans follow the priorities set out in the Programme for Government.

It has been my privilege to present and explain the Executive’s financial decisions to the Assembly on many occasions. I thank Members for the attention and care that they have given to those issues during my time as Minister of Finance and Personnel. I know that I can rely on Members to give my successor a similarly thoughtful and questioning response. I commend the proposals to the Assembly. Members have a week to discuss and consider them further before I put down a motion to seek approval of the revised Budget on Tuesday 11 December.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel (Mr Molloy):

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s statement. It shows that the Executive, and the Minister in particular, have been listening to the Assembly and have paid attention to Committee reports — especially those from the Committee for Finance and Personnel.

Does the Minister agree that the fact that he has been able to put additional money into health, over and above the amount allocated by the Chancellor, shows that a review of the Barnett formula is necessary and that having a local Assembly gives us the opportunity to make our own decisions, especially on health issues? Can he ensure that the money that has been ring-fenced for health — as announced by the Chancellor — will go to health? Patients are real people, and they need real care. We need new money — and real money — to ensure that that vital service is maintained.

Can the Minister also confirm that the allocation of £8 million of direct money that was announced today is over and above the £14 million that he announced in the September review?

I welcome the reinstatement of the general grant to the 16 poorer councils. Does the Minister agree that a reduction in the resources grant, together with a rate rise, would have had a devastating effect and would have created a real crisis for many councils whose resources are already under pressure? In relation to the potential review – [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:

Order. Although the Member is the Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel and, as such, is allowed more leeway when questioning the Minister, as is the case with all Committee Chairpersons, this is an opportunity for one or two, rather than a raft of, questions.

Mr Molloy:

A Cheann Comhairle, I am asking questions on behalf of the Committee, which has many Members.

What steps will the Minister and the Executive consider taking before negotiations begin on the 2002 spending review, with its likely constraints, to ensure that allocations meet future needs?

Mr Durkan:

I thank Mr Molloy for his initial comments. As Minister of Finance and Personnel, I have been happy to listen carefully to debates in the Chamber and to the Committee for Finance and Personnel. That is not only an indication that I am a good listener; it is also an indication that good points have been raised. The Executive have been able to reflect positively those issues in the revised Budget. We have been able to translate our stated priority for health into further allocations, which I believe is welcome.

As Mr Molloy pointed out, if the Barnett formula worked differently and more in our favour, we would be able to allocate even more money to health and to our regional priority. There has been some misunderstanding about that — every penny that we receive from the Barnett formula for health goes to health. Moreover, we allocate still more, as the revised Budget shows. I can confirm that the £8 million that will be allocated to this year’s health budget is additional to the £14·3 million that was allocated in the September monitoring round.

Therefore, since the draft Budget a further £22 million has been allocated to health this year and a further £41 million to the health budget for next year.

Work on the needs and effectiveness evaluation is laying the groundwork for the consideration we shall undertake for the 2002 spending review. I hope that Committees will soon start to address the 2002 spending review from their perspective.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Social Development (Mr Cobain):

Will the Minister confirm that he recognises that the Department for Social Development deals with the most marginalised in this society? He has often said so. Will he explain to the House why it appears that that Department’s budget is the only one that has been reduced since the draft proposals were published in September? Will he confirm that the cut is in the field of urban regeneration and community development and comes at a time when investment is desperately needed in places such as north Belfast to help and support local communities?

Mr Durkan:

No budget has been cut. Since the draft Budget, the total budget for the Department for Social Development has been increased by 7·5%. No departmental allocation has been cut — [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:

If the Member wishes to intervene, the Minister is content to allow the intervention.

Mr Cobain:

In September’s draft Budget, the total allocation to the Department for Social Development was £450·5 million. The new allocation is £449·7 million, which is a reduction in that Department’s overall budget.

Mr Durkan:

My statement referred to a technical change that has led to a reduced requirement of £5·4 million for Laganside. That £5·4 million is part of the additional moneys that were available to us. The Department declared that change. The impression seems to be that some drive-by cuts are taking place by my, or somebody else’s, hands. The £5·4 million reduced requirement has been used to make the changes that we have now presented in the revised Budget.

I also indicated that we recognise that certain Northern Ireland Housing Executive issues are likely to give rise to further claims on in-year monitoring allocations.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Dr Hendron):

I welcome the Minister’s statement, especially on health allocations. I welcome the £13 million for community services. Those include the additional community care places for older people, which will reduce the massive pressure on beds, the introduction of free nursing care for the elderly and the extra £8 million already mentioned.

Bearing in mind the gross underfunding of the Health Service over the years and the ongoing daily crisis, will the Minister agree that all money directly allocated for health by central Government should be spent on health in Northern Ireland? In England, 2% more is spent on health. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an additional £1 billion for health. How much of the £27·8 million received as a result is going to health in Northern Ireland?

Without knowing the Executive programme funds allocation, it is difficult to work out how much of that £27·8 million is going to health. I appreciate that there will be a statement later on Executive programme funds. However, with that new money and the money from the programme funds, can the Minister assure us that he and his Executive Colleagues will give total support to the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in acquiring the necessary funding to set up the new cancer unit at Belfast City Hospital?

12.45 pm

Extra money is welcome, but does the Minister agree that we are still £50 million short of the Department’s bids for the extra £122 million needed to maintain the services in 2002-03? Those services may continue to deteriorate. I welcome the Minister’s positive statement.

Mr Durkan:

The Executive have used every penny — and more — that was allocated for health in the Barnett formula to improve services. Let us be clear about that. I have said that a total of £27·8 million will go towards health. In fact, we can now allocate £41 million more for health for next year than was allocated in the draft Budget, which means £72 million more than was reflected in the position report. That goes a long way towards meeting more than half of the bids referred to by the Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety. That £41 million extra for next year will allow for service development in several areas.

I said in the draft Budget that the allocation would not be sufficient to allow much service development and that services would just stand still. However, that allocation has been raised to allow for service development. The Member’s assertion that £50 million more is needed just to maintain existing services is not true. Approximately £41 million of real service development can take place as a result of the additional allocations in the revised Budget.

Mr Speaker:

There is only one hour for questions, so if a question has been answered, Members should not feel pressed to ask it again, thus inviting the Minister to give the same response. It is a different matter if a Member wishes to press the Minister on an unsatisfactory answer. However, a simple repetition of questions and answers is not the best use of our time.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development (Rev Dr Ian Paisley):

When the chairperson of the vision group met my Committee, my Committee was flabbergasted to hear that no money has been allocated to put recommendations into operation. It is a waste of time and money for Committees to be appointed to make recommendations when no money is available to implement those recommendations.

On Friday, my Committee was staggered to hear that there is almost an epidemic of tuberculosis and brucellosis here, with 180 herds now closed. Some £22 million was paid in compensation in the previous financial year, and that may rise this year. Did the Department raise that with the Minister, and was there a request for further allocations for those important matters?

Mr Durkan:

As I pointed out previously, the work carried out by the vision group is the subject of consultation, and final detailed proposals will emerge from that. It is not the only review exercise of that nature that could have resource implications, depending on the final proposals. As with the other exercises, the decisions on financial allocations will be made in the light of the proposals that we have received. I have made no secret of the fact that the Budget does not include additional resources for the outcome of the vision exercise. The Executive have already agreed that the need for resources will be considered following the consultation exercise. People may have accused us of pre-empting the outcome if we had fixed a particular allocation. In spring, when the results of that exercise become available and a draft action plan has been developed, the Executive will address the resource issues. That will be one of the major issues for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the 2002 spending review.

I have no doubt that the other issues raised by the Chairperson of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee will make their way to me or my successor when the Department and the Minister feel that it is appropriate.

Mr Close:

I acknowledge the attempt made by the Executive to give greater recognition to the needs of the most vulnerable and weak in our society through the further increase in the allocation to healthcare provision. Will the additional allocation for community care packages be sufficient to end bed blocking in our hospitals? If not, what extra money would be required to achieve that goal?

I welcome the Minister’s statement on free nursing care, but we need to know where nursing care ends and personal care begins. How much additional money would be required to end discrimination and ageism in healthcare provision?

Paragraph 32 of the Minister’s statement says that

"the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will have a budget of £31·9 million".

The Minister said that the Budget would be £33 million. Which is the correct figure? The Minister also said that the increase to the Department for Social Development’s budget is 7·5%; the figure that we have in front of us is 8·6%.

Mr Durkan:

I advised Members at the start of my statement that a couple of figures — not in the Budget document, but in the statement — were wrong. I corrected those figures, and a corrected version of the statement will be made available to Members. The figures that I read out were correct. I have no doubt that Mr Close will be scandalised by that and will call on me to resign. I shall consider my position.

Mr A Maginness:



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