Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 11 February 2002
The Assembly met at noon (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
It is my sad duty to advise the House of the death on Saturday past, 9 February, of Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. As Speaker, I have written today to Her Majesty The Queen to express condolences to her, to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and to the whole of the Royal Family on their sad loss.
As a token of our respect, I propose that all business be postponed and that the House do now, by leave, suspend for one hour, resuming the business at 1.00 pm. The sitting is, by leave, suspended.
The sitting was suspended at 12.03 pm.
On resuming —
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to ask you to explain to the House why, in the past, the House stood in silence for people and then commented on their passing — we had the deaths of the First Minister of Scotland, a journalist and a postal worker — and yet on the death of the only sister of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, it did not stand in silence to observe her passing? Can you assure me that it was not because of threats from certain Members of the House that, if that took place, they would see to it that they would be seated and would not take part in such a thing? Can you also explain to us why the Union flag is not flying at half mast on the Building today?
First of all, there was of course the death of one individual that was commemorated here, to which I think the Member did not refer. That is the death of a Member, Mr Tom Benson. As I recall, although I stand open to correction as ever, the deaths to which the Member referred were not all dealt with in the same way. In the case of Mr Benson and the First Minister of Scotland, I believe that there was a motion that was spoken to. In the other cases, I believe, there was a short period of silence. It does not seem appropriate that the passing of Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret should be commemorated in exactly the same way, but rather in a different way. That has been done by the suspension of the House.
The second question that the Member asked was whether there was any threat, and I am sure that he means was it conveyed to me in any way — not just by word of mouth or in writing — and the answer is that there was not. No one spoke to me or raised the question with me. I try to use my best judgement to be the servant of the House, but no one raised any such questions.
The third question that the Member raised was on the flying of the flag. I enquired on Saturday morning as to whether there were any flag orders from the palace. I was advised that that was not the case. Subsequently, I made enquiries with the Parliaments in Westminster and Edinburgh, the Assembly in Wales and the Parliament in Dublin, none of which had made any decisions, but all were considering the matter this morning. I gave instruction that, if there was an order, the flag should fly at half mast, but, if there was not, that understanding from the palace should also be accepted.
It is my understanding that it is intended that the flag will fly at half mast throughout the country on the day of the funeral, which I understand to be Friday 15 February at St George’s Chapel. That is why the flag is not flying at half mast today. However, I expect there to be an order in respect of Friday 15 February, when the flag will fly at half mast.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
On a further point of order, Mr Speaker. Hansard reports that the House observed two minutes’ silence when the First Minister of Scotland died.
I believe that a motion was tabled on that occasion.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
That is correct.
That is the point I am making. The matter has been given some consideration. All deaths are in some way the same; that is one of the great levellers. However, there is another sense in which not all deaths have precisely the same meaning, and so they are handled differently. The Member will also notice, since I think he has Hansard to hand — and this may not be so well known to members of the public — that in certain circumstances a black border surrounds the relevant pages and, earlier this morning, I gave instructions that that should be done today.
I wish to inform the House that Royal Assent has been signified to the Industrial Development Act (Northern Ireland) 2002. The Act became law on 7 February 2002.
Resolved (with cross-community support):
That this Assembly suspends Standing Order 10(2) and Standing Order 10(6) for Monday 11 February 2002. — [The Minister of Finance and Personnel.]
As the two motions relate to Supply resolutions, I propose to conduct one debate. I shall ask the Minister to move the first motion. The debate will then take place on both motions. 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. The Business Committee has not imposed a time limit on the debate, and I do not intend to propose any limit on the length of Members’ contributions, hence the motion to suspend Standing Orders.
The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Dr Farren):
I beg to move
That this Assembly approves that a further sum not exceeding £198,035,000 be granted out of the Consolidated Fund 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 Electricity and Gas for the year ending 31 March 2002 and that further resources, not exceeding £574,419,000, be authorised 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 as summarised for each Department or other public body in columns 2(b) and 3(b) of Table 1 in the volume of the Northern Ireland spring Supplementary Estimates 2001-02 that was laid before the Assembly on 11 February 2002.
The following motion stood in the Order Paper:
That this Assembly approves that a sum not exceeding £3,936,009,000 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 Electricity and Gas for the year ending 31 March 2003 and that resources, not exceeding £4,486,387,000, 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 2003 as summarised for each Department or other public body in columns 4 and 6 of Table 1 in the Vote on Account 2002-03 document that was laid before the Assembly on 11 February 2002. — [The Minister of Finance and Personnel.]
I introduce two important resolutions of the budgetary cycle. The first resolution seeks the approval of the Assembly to the issue of a further sum of £198 million from the Consolidated Fund and the use of additional resources amounting to £574 million for the 2001-02 financial year, as detailed in the spring Supplementary Estimates booklet.
The second resolution seeks the Assembly’s approval on the issue of a cash sum of £3,936 million on account for the 2002-03 financial year. It also seeks the Assembly’s authority for the use of resources amounting to £4,486 million on account in the 2002-03 financial year.
Before moving to the detail of those resolutions, I wish to acknowledge the confirmation by the Committee for Finance and Personnel that there has been adequate consultation with it on the public expenditure proposals reflected in those resolutions. I am aware of the Committee’s keen and proper interest in finance issues, and I look forward to working with the Committee in the coming months. I hope to build on the constructive and positive relationship established by my predecessor, Mark Durkan, and to see what more we can do to improve the consultative process and enhance the scrutiny role of the Assembly and its Committees.
As an Assembly, one of our fundamental responsibilities is to authorise expenditure and to hold Departments to account for how it is used. Resolutions such as those that I am introducing today are the basis on which the legislature, in the form of the Assembly, authorises the spending of the Departments, the Assembly, the Northern Ireland Audit Office and other bodies for the exercise of their various functions. That is one of the main means we have of ensuring that we deliver on our agreed plans and, in due course, deliver the Executive’s Programme for Government.
The scope of the debate covers expenditure in 2001-02 and 2002-03. The first of the two resolutions is the means by which Supplementary Estimates can be examined by the Assembly. As was the case with the Main Estimates for 2001-02, and as is now the normal practice, those Supplementary Estimates are also presented on a resource basis. The Supplementary Estimates are the main means of implementing and confirming the decisions by the Executive on the allocation of resources brought forward from 2000-01 under the end-year flexibility arrangements, and on the reallocation of resources through the in-year monitoring rounds in June, September and December. It also includes decisions that have been made in relation to the second tranche of the Executive programme funds, which my predecessor, Mark Durkan, announced on 3 December. Therefore, the Supplementary Estimates represent the implementation of financial decisions that we have taken since the Assembly agreed the opening position when it approved the Main Estimates last June.
I wish to emphasise a fundamentally important aspect of the first resolution: we are not dealing with new proposals; we are merely giving effect to decisions that have already been made and brought to the attention of the Assembly.
The second resolution is the usual means by which, at this point in the financial cycle, Departments’ ongoing financial commitments are authorised during the period between the beginning of the 2002-03 financial year and the presentation to the Assembly of the Main Estimates for that year, which will take place in June. In general, the cash and resource amounts required on account have been calculated as 45% of the 2001-02 total voted provision.
As its name suggests, the Vote on Account is not intended to seek the Assembly’s final approval of the allocations for 2002-03, since less than half of the total proposed Budget is being sought in this 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 2002-03. Last year there was prior discussion between my Department and the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the Main Estimates, and I propose to continue that practice. Thus, today I propose to focus on the issues relating to 2001-02, as this is the last major opportunity for discussion on that period before the end of the financial year.
This is only the second time that Supplementary Estimates have been presented to the Assembly, and it might be helpful if I remind Members of some important aspects of the Estimates that differ from the Budget and the monitoring rounds. First, the Estimates include all aspects of departmental expenditure that are subject to the authorisation of resources and associated cash appropriation. This means that they include annually managed expenditure as well as that which falls within the departmental expenditure limit. Because we receive automatic adjustment of estimated requirements for annually managed expenditure from the Treasury — and have to return any resources that we do not need to the Treasury — these items are not included in the scope of the public expenditure monitoring rounds, which the Executive conduct and which are regularly announced to the Assembly. The main items in this category are social security benefits — some of which are subject to annual appropriation or authorisation — and others that are charged under legislation to the National Insurance fund, and, hence, do not feature in the voting process. Annually managed expenditure also contains the major non-cash elements of departmental budgets arising from the transition to resource-based budgeting — principally depreciation and the cost of capital charges. Lastly, expenditure under the common agricultural policy also falls into this category because it is fully funded by the European agricultural guarantee and guidance fund.
As well as these annually managed expenditure items, there are some aspects of expenditure that were nominally attached to the departmental expenditure limit, but which are ring-fenced by the Treasury. [Interruption].
Order. I fear that Members will have some difficulty following the complexity of this statement if they do not listen. They will also ensure that other Members do not hear the complexity of the statement.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your intervention.
As we have no discretion in the use of these resources, they have not been included in our monitoring rounds. These include expenditure under the EU Peace programmes, and a special addition provided some years ago to cover the costs of the Moyle electricity interconnector. The Supplementary Estimates contain several reduced requirements under the EU Peace programmes that are needed to align with actual expenditure under the programmes. The funding will be made available again in future years and will not be lost to Northern Ireland.
I have already mentioned that some expenditure on social security is handled outside the voting system. This is because there are standing authorisations, in the form of specific legislation, which allow money to be drawn from the Consolidated Fund, or another fund, to provide the particular service. A further example arises when a Department makes a loan under a statutory power. Often under the cash regime the issue of the loan will count towards the departmental expenditure limit, but in some cases this would not need to come through the Estimates and voting system because there is a 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 departmental expenditure limit 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 the Supplementary Estimates.
We must also bear in mind the convention that Estimates are not reduced as the year progresses, even if it is clear that the Department concerned will not require the full extent of the Main Estimates cover. By their nature, the figures are estimates, and the sense of the resolution is that the Executive and the Departments are seeking authorisation for spending up to the figure quoted in the Estimates. I appreciate that it is difficult to fully take in all the parameters that surround the spending procedures, but, nonetheless, they are important for the record, and Members should have received the published statement.
The final complication that I need to mention is that there can be agreed transfers of resources between Departments, among Departments of the Executive and the Northern Ireland Office or between Departments here and Whitehall Departments. By convention, if responsibility for a function transfers, the departmental expenditure limit spending provision transfers with it.
All these factors are important. They affect how the figures that are discussed and set out in the Budget planning documents and in the subsequent monitoring rounds are in the end reflected in the final amounts, which must be authorised for issue from the Consolidated Fund to cover the approved expenditure. This is undeniably complex but essential in order to meet the twin requirements that we keep expenditure within the overall Northern Ireland departmental expenditure limit and seek authorisation for no greater amount of expenditure than is set out in the Estimates.
The approval of the Main Estimates for 2001-02 by the Assembly last June provided the detailed basis for the allocation and use of resources for the specific purposes described in the Estimates. Since then there have been in-year monitoring rounds in June, September and December, which resulted in decisions to make changes in these allocations, as well as a further announcement of funding from the Executive programme funds.
The in-year monitoring exercises provide an important means — indeed, usually the only means — by which we can respond to new pressures by taking advantage of any easements that emerge. I know that there has been some disquiet among Members about the substantial sums that have become available during monitoring rounds, and I have indicated that the Executive have agreed that we should examine the financial monitoring systems to see if there is room to improve our forecasting.
Let me address at this point a fundamental issue regarding the monitoring process, particularly as there has been an attempt to misrepresent how such moneys could, and should, be used. When Departments underspend on their budgets, those moneys are surrendered to the centre, where they can be reallocated according to the Executive’s priorities. They are not available for reallocation by Ministers within Departments. That would be wrong, as by their nature monitoring moneys are short term, and it would be politically dishonest to suggest that such funds could be used to address long-term policy issues. Some Members have suggested that underspent money in the Department for Employment and Learning, for example, could have been redirected towards student support.
Allegations of wastage have been made against that Department. Not only are such allegations factually incorrect in the amounts of money referred to with regard to underspends, but in making these misrepresentations a disservice is being rendered to the genuine cause of students’ welfare, to which the House has already directed considerable attention and resources.
In addressing these issues, particularly monitoring rounds, we must bear in mind the length of the financial planning cycle. We must also encourage Departments to continue to identify easements as early in the financial year as possible so that they can ensure that they are deployed to the best possible effect. A good example of this is the final monitoring round of the financial year, which is held in February. Practical opportunities to spend at that time are limited. Furthermore, decisions are made on the monitoring round after the Supplementary Estimates have been agreed. Therefore, there is limited scope to deploy funds. It is problematic if Departments make large surrenders at that stage, as the opportunities to allow other Departments to take advantage of the funding are limited.
The outcomes of the monitoring rounds and the decisions on the Executive programme funds have been accompanied by detailed statements to the Assembly at each stage. Although it is not possible to have prior consultations with the Committee for Finance and Personnel before announcing the Executive’s decisions on those monitoring rounds, Mark Durkan and I have been available to explain the position, and there has been scope since each monitoring round for any scrutiny that may have been required. In this context, I want to repeat Mark Durkan’s advice that Committees do not need a starting gun from the Department of Finance and Personnel to ask their Departments about emerging spending pressures, or to scrutinise performance at any time throughout the year. As I said, they have the liberty and the capacity to do so.
The total amount of the Supplementary Estimates is £574 million in resource terms and an associated cash requirement of £198 million for the year ending 31 March 2002. The detailed allocations contained in the booklets have been determined by Departments after careful consideration and approval by the Department of Finance and Personnel. Ministers will be better placed than I to explain and justify some of the detail, but, in so far as I can do so today, I shall try to deal with any of the matters raised by Members. If I cannot, I shall refer the matter to the relevant Minister for more detailed consideration.
To gain a picture of how the figures of £574 million and £198 million in resources and cash respectively are made up, one must go back to the decisions taken after the monitoring rounds. First, there is on this occasion a significant difference between the resource and cash requirements, as the figures show. That is largely due to an increase of £300 million of resources — but not cash — sought by the Department for Regional Development to reflect a reassessment of the value of the road network.
For the reasons that I have given, the amounts reallocated do not correspond exactly to the net surplus after monitoring, since several technical adjustments are also made at those stages.
For the reasons that I gave, the amounts reallocated do not correspond exactly to the net surplus after monitoring, because technical adjustments are made at those stages. However, during the monitoring rounds the Departments declared some £146·2 million as easements, which were weighed against bids for additional resources totalling £415·5 million. Inevitably, there is some double counting in the figures for bids, because unsuccessful bids in one round are likely to be repeated later. A further £30 million for Departments was also announced through the Executive programme funds. Those figures help to illustrate the process. I will say more about how individual allocations to individual Departments will be affected later.
As with the approval of the Main Estimates last June and the agreement of the Budget for 2002-03 in December, decisions about the allocation of resources have been influenced by equality requirements, as set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and policy precepts such as New TSN and the Programme for Government.
I know from the interest that Members and Committees demonstrated, especially the Committee for Finance and Personnel, that the responsibility that we fulfil today is not assumed lightly. As an Executive and an Assembly, we have a duty to ensure the highest standards of propriety in respect of public finances. That is an aspect of the authorisation, management and control of expenditure by the Assembly, the Departments and the bodies that they fund. The efficient use of resources is no less important as we strive to deliver the highest- quality public services from the funds available.
Those are matters in which the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have a particular interest. They can examine how public sector bodies perform in meeting their objectives and ensure that they do so with propriety and efficiency. As the Minister of Finance and Personnel, I acknowledge the important function that they perform and the interest, proposals and work of the Committee for Finance and Personnel.
I do not propose to discuss line by line the changes to the allocations for individual Departments, because the introduction to each departmental Estimate within the Supplementary Estimates booklet sets out in detail — some might say in too much detail — the main changes that are sought. I will, however, highlight some of the key changes.
The total net additional resource requirement of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is £54·5 million. In request for resources A, which provides for ongoing services and support measures, an additional £15·8 million net resource requirement is sought. Additions of £32 million are necessary. Those cover costs relating to animal disease, including foot-and-mouth disease, brucellosis, tuberculosis and BSE, as well as the funding required for the national element of the agrimonetary package. Those additions are offset by reductions totalling £16·2 million, including those resulting from a delay in the Northern Ireland scrapie plan as a result of foot-and-mouth disease, from the beef quality initiative, and the processing and marketing grants, which were affected by a delay in obtaining state aids approval. There are also reduced requirements for the funding of rural development grants, the European Union Peace programme, capital charges and depreciation costs.
In request for resources B, which provides for the work of the Rivers Agency, the Forest Service and sea fisheries, an additional £38·7 million net resource requirement is sought. Additions of £40·8 million are necessary, of which £38·7 million is for capital charges and depreciation costs attributable to revaluation of the assets of the Rivers Agency. Other additions arise in respect of foot-and-mouth-disease costs and the Forest Service.
These additions are offset by reductions totalling £2·1 million, which are mainly in respect of the European Union Peace programme. When the additional resource requirement is adjusted to a cash basis, and capital expenditure is taken into account, the Department is seeking additional cash of £17·6 million to fund expenditure on the Estimate.
The total net additional resource requirement for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is £13·2 million. The major additions are £10 million for the public library service to meet the one-off costs of the arrears arising from the job evaluation review, as well as ongoing costs, and an additional £1·6 million for the Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland (MAGNI) to address deficits and health-and-safety-related maintenance work.
The additions are offset by a reduction of £1 million through rescheduling of expenditure in the European Union Peace programme, and a number of smaller technical adjustments totalling £0·6 million. When the additional resource requirement is adjusted to a cash basis, and capital expenditure is taken into account, the Department is seeking additional cash of £12·3 million to fund expenditure on the Estimate.
An increase of £13·6 million is sought by the Department of Education in request for resources A, which covers schools. That includes an increase of £16·4 million in capital provision, which is mainly for schools and includes provision of £2 million for disabled access. A sum of £10·2 million is being provided for teachers’ pay, £3 million for infrastructure provision for the Classroom 2000 project and £1·2 million for school fuel costs.
Those increases are offset principally by reduced requirements of £13 million on threshold payments to teachers, as, in accrual terms, certain threshold payments relate to the 2000-01 financial year, not the 2001-02 financial year. Other reduced requirements relate to the European Union Peace programme and the deferment of the introduction of the revised Northern Ireland curriculum from September 2003 to September 2004.
In request for resources B, which covers the Youth Service and community relations for young people, an increase of some £3·5 million is sought. This includes £1 million in mainstream Youth Service provision, including £0·1 million for support measures in north Belfast, as well as other additions totalling £3 million for capital programmes, European Union programmes and the Executive programme funds for the Youth Service. When the resource requirement is adjusted to a cash basis, and departmental capital expenditure is taken into account, the Department is seeking a cash increase of some £20·2 million to fund expenditure in the Estimate.
The total net additional resource requirement for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is £10·8 million. In request for resources A, which provides for the Department’s economic and regeneration measures, an additional net £12·2 million is sought. Additions include £16·5 million being carried forward from 2000-01 under end-year flexibility arrangements for the Moyle interconnector, £7 million for payments under the European Union Peace I programme, and £2 million to enable LEDU to meet an increase in demand for grants by the small business sector. Those additions have been offset by a reduced requirement of £13·6 million from the Industrial Development Board, arising from the economic downturn.
In request for resources B, which provides for equality, policy and regulatory measures, there is a net decrease of £1·4 million made up of a technical reallocation of £2·8 million to request for resources A for depreciation and capital charges and a further reallocation from request for resources A to request for resources B to meet administration, legal and consultancy costs. When the additional resource requirement is adjusted to a cash basis, and capital expenditure is taken into account, the Department is seeking additional cash of £12·8 million to fund expenditure on this Estimate.
The total net additional resource requirement for the Office for the Regulation of Electricity and Gas is £0·3 million. This includes additional provision to cover salary and associated costs on gas-related work and results in a cash requirement of £0·2 million to fund expenditure on this Estimate.
The Department for Regional Development is seeking an increase of just over £306 million in the total net resource requirement. There is a reduction of under £5 million in the total provision to meet direct expenditure on the purchase of assets and investment in capital projects. The Department’s request for resources A covers roads, transport and strategic planning functions with related central administration. The increase of approximately £315 million is attributable mainly to an increase in non-cash costs such as depreciation and capital charges after a revaluation of the road network. Additional resources of just under £11 million are being made available for structural maintenance and essential bridge maintenance as well as to meet the increased costs of certain oil-based products. These additional costs are partly offset by an increase of £1 million in income, mainly from car-parking charges.
Provision for capital expenditure by the Roads Service is reduced by £1·7 million due to delays in the progress of some road schemes. An increase of £1·4 million is for the purchase of the new Strangford ferry and reflects a redistribution of resources in the Roads Service. On the transport side there are increases of £2·8 million for the public service obligation compensation payable to Northern Ireland Railways and £3 million for grants to the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company for rail and bus fare concessions. Request for resources A also includes an additional £5 million to fund capital expenditure by the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company.
In the Department’s request for resources B, which relates to the provision of water and sewerage services, there is an overall reduction in the total net resource requirement. That largely reflects a reassessment of depreciation and the cost of capital charges and other non-cash costs. An increase of £2·5 million is sought to cover increased salary and wage costs as well as an increase of £3·3 million to meet additional costs incurred for sludge disposal and odour reduction measures. Those increases are partly offset by additional income of £1 million, mainly from metered water charges.
On the capital side, the increase in provision of £1·4 million includes an additional £0·8 million for the purchase of information technology equipment, together with a redistribution of resources. When accruals to cash adjustments are made, the Department for Regional Development’s net cash requirement for the year is increased by £19 million to £528 million.
The Department for Employment and Learning is seeking an increase of £3·2 million in request for resources A covering higher and further education and student support. The increase is to provide disabled people with access to higher and further education institutions, to cover a higher than expected pay award for further education lecturers, additional grant for Lisburn College and additional private finance initiative (PFI) costs, and to take account of carry forward of unspent capital budget under the end-year flexibility scheme.
The total net additional resource requirement for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is £94·9 million. In request for resources A, which mainly provides for ongoing departmental administration costs, an additional £1 million net resource requirement is being sought. That includes funding for the Occupational Health Service, £0·2 million for additional staff, and cover for reduced income. It is offset by a reduction in the Health Estates Agency.
An additional £92·9 million net resource requirement is being sought in request for resources B, which provides for the health and personal social services programme. This includes £49·6 million, which is a non-cash adjustment with neutral impact on the overall spending power. Additional funds have been made available to the Health Service at each monitoring round during the current financial year and include £28 million towards hospital and community care pressures.
Ten million pounds was made available for health and social services trust deficits. Decisions made by the Executive, coupled with careful financial management and monitoring, mean that positive steps have been taken to ensure that the financial management of the Health Service has been put onto a firmer footing and that expenditure will be managed within the resources available. Funding has also gone towards increasing access to new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and to cardiac surgery, and towards measures to facilitate earlier discharge from hospital and to prevent avoidable admission.
Other significant increases within this request for resources include £5 million for demand-led family health services, £2 million towards clinical negligence settlements, £3 million for drug strategy projects and action to combat drugs, and £1·4 million for grants available under the EU Peace programme. The total increase in this area has been offset by £9 million additional receipts from Health Service contributions.
Request for resources C contains an additional £1 million for the Fire Authority towards staff pension costs. When the resource requirement is adjusted to a cash basis, and capital expenditure is taken into account, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is seeking an additional £46 million to fund expenditure on this Estimate.
The Department for Social Development is seeking increases in its three requests for resources. An increase of £14 million is being sought in request for resources A, which covers the Department’s social security and child support programmes. That is made up of additional non-contributory and income-related benefit expenditure of £9 million due to increased requirements for a range of benefits and payments. A further £1 million is required for administration, and £4 million for certain non-cash items.
In request for resources B, which covers the Department’s housing programme, additional resources of £5 million are being sought, mainly in the revenue grant to the Housing Executive.
Additional resources of £14·5 million are being sought in request for resources C, which covers the Department’s urban regeneration and community development programme. Those include additional funding for Making Belfast Work and the Derry Regeneration Initiative’s programme expenditure, the EU programmes, the Executive programme funds and administration costs. When the resource requirement is adjusted to a cash basis, and capital expenditure is taken into account, the Department is seeking an additional £34 million cash to fund expenditure on the Estimate.
I now turn to the Department of Finance and Personnel, where an additional £24,000 is being sought in request for resources A to cover additional running costs in the central finance group.
An additional £6·1 million is required in request for resources B, which covers support for public sector business performance. That covers the net effect of the increased costs of running the Government estate and the census, the provision of research and statistical services, and the provision of purchasing services, which are funded by transfers by other Departments. The sum of £49,000 is required in request for resources C, arising from the implementation of the final phase of the Valuation and Lands Agency’s grade and structure review.
The Department of Finance and Personnel seeks an additional £19·3 million to meet higher than anticipated costs associated with the operation of the Civil Service superannuation scheme. I emphasise that those costs are borne in annually managed expenditure and, therefore, do not restrict the resources available for allocation by the Executive. The main reasons for the increase are the higher than anticipated transfer-out costs — where members leave the superannuation scheme — and the increasing numbers reaching normal retirement age.
An increase in resources of £3·8 million is sought for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Some £2 million of that increase relates to provision for the North/South Ministerial Council, the Civic Forum, the Planning Appeals Commission and the Water Appeals Commission. The balance is required to meet the cost of departmental administration, foot-and-mouth-disease advertisements, the increased provision for the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the European Union Peace programme.
When the additional resource requirement is adjusted to a cash basis, and capital expenditure is taken into account, the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy Minister is seeking an additional cash sum of £3·6 million to fund expenditure on the Estimate.
The total net additional resource requirement for the Northern Ireland Assembly is £1·4 million. That reflects the transfer of provision from resources to capital of £7·9 million arising from the purchase and refurbishment of additional accommodation — principally, Ormiston House — and an increase in depreciation and capital charges of £9·3 million after the revaluation of existing assets and the purchase of additional assets. When the additional resources requirement is adjusted to a cash basis, the Northern Ireland Assembly is seeking additional cash of £90,000 to fund expenditure on the Estimate.
In respect of the Northern Ireland Audit Office, and the Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints, there are small increases of £49,000 and £13,000 respectively.
That deals with the resolution for the spring Supplementary Estimates. I will endeavour to answer Members’ questions.
I will turn now to the second Supply resolution for the issue of an amount — that is, a cash sum — of £3,936 million to be granted on account towards defraying the costs incurred by Departments and the use of resources of some £4,486 million for the same purposes in the year 2002-03. The cash sum and the resource totals for which approval is sought represent a Vote on Account, pending the bringing forward of the Main Estimates to the Assembly in June. A Vote on Account at this point in the financial year, prior to the year in which the cash or resources will be used, is a normal feature of Government financial management. It arises because, after the Assembly’s approval of the Budget in December, detailed work has to be undertaken by Departments, and by the Department of Finance and Personnel, to disaggregate and allocate resource requirements for individual purposes, often through narrowly defined line entries.
The Vote on Account reflects both the allocation of cash to Departments and the allocation, up to a limit, for the use of resources. As already explained, the Vote on Account takes account of the levels of expenditure agreed by the Assembly in the Budget and will be consistent with the figure work brought forward in the Main Estimates later this year. There will, of course, be an opportunity for a full debate on the details at that stage.
In the interim, the Vote on Account will fund Departments to implement the ongoing programmes and services for which they are responsible and which form part of the Budget decisions that were taken last December.
As I have said, this is the second occasion on which a Minister of Finance and Personnel has presented Supplementary Estimates to the Assembly. The devolved Assembly has again been able to make decisions for a complete financial year. We have also announced the first allocations from the Executive programme funds in this financial year. However, the Executive are conscious of the need to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. As Minister of Finance and Personnel, I intend to ensure that future financial recommendations continue to be subject to careful and detailed scrutiny — and to challenge, if necessary.
The Assembly and the Committees have a vital role to play in these processes. I am committed to doing all that is possible to ensure that Members can fulfil their responsibilities effectively. In that context, I have noted that the Committee for Finance and Personnel has expressed several concerns about the process, the documentation and the time available for consideration of matters.
I fully understand those concerns, and I acknowledge the need for further developments. We face real difficulties as a result of the timescale to which we must work. I will examine the scope for improvement, and I will work with the Committee to achieve that end in the months ahead. To assist us to ensure that we are targeting funding in the most appropriate way possible, we are carrying out a review of the Executive programme funds, which will inform our shaping of the future management and direction of those funds. We will continue to attach the highest priority to ensuring that we manage and control the resources that are available to us.
Through the Programme for Government and the Budget, we have the opportunity to set out our priorities and plans. Our challenge is to provide the highest-quality services to our citizens.
The detail of my statement is complex by its nature — perhaps it is made more complex by looking backwards while planning for the future, but it is appropriate that we do so. The Executive and the Assembly have achieved much in the past two years. We are getting to grips with the challenge of setting our own spending priorities and directing resources towards them. Our challenge is to continue to spend money in an efficient and effective way, so that the people whom we serve can see that we are making a difference. We have made a good start, and the advantages of devolution are on display in the Chamber this afternoon.
Achieving our aims for the future will not be easy or straightforward, and this will not be a comfortable year financially. We face a crucial spending review, which will conclude in the summer. Many Members appreciate that challenging the Barnett formula is not a no-risk option. Ministers and I will weigh these matters carefully before proceeding, and I will continue to value the advice of the departmental Committee and the Assembly before doing so.