The Department of Finance has today published a briefing paper on the broad strategic issues that will help inform decisions on a Budget for 2018-19 and 2019-2020 (and 2020/21 for Capital).
Departments are required to live within their budget every year. To do so for 2018-19 and onwards, decisions are becoming pressing. It is our assessment that, for an effective budget to be set and delivered by a new Executive, it should be agreed early in February 2018. The decisions in a Budget have the potential to impact on the delivery of public services and on the lives of every citizen.
Department of Finance Permanent Secretary Hugh Widdis said: “This is an unusual step which is being taken with great reluctance. In normal circumstances, the Minister of Finance would have presented a Draft Budget to the Executive for agreement and later approval, after debate, by the Assembly.
“This year, in the absence of Ministers, the Department of Finance is now taking the unusual step of publishing information about the broad choices available for balancing the Budget to help inform decisions to be taken by an incoming Executive.”
The Briefing on the Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook 2018-20 sets the context for this and illustrates the options that may need to be considered by Ministers through the use of three possible scenarios. These are purely illustrative. This process reflects the new approach for the Programme for Government, focussing on outcomes.
These are not proposed budget settlements and no decisions have yet been taken.
Mr Widdis said: “Budgets for 2018/19 and 2019/20 will need to take account of constrained financial resources and growing departmental pressures.
“The briefing paper sets out the assessment of the resources available and approaches that would enable Departments to live within them.
“No decisions have been taken. It will be for Ministers to decide on the way forward, which will be informed by this process.”
Given the need to have an agreed Budget by the beginning of February, any feedback should be provided by 26 January 2018.
Alliance Responds To Budget Outlook Document
Alliance Party Deputy Leader Stephen Farry has responded to NICS Briefing on the Budget Outlook for Northern Ireland, stressing that the absence of a functioning devolved Executive and a strategic approach to public spending is further compounding a difficult financial context, with further risks to the quality of public services and the potential of the economy.
Stephen Farry MLA said: “This Budget Outlook document demonstrates the political failures and missed opportunities in Northern Ireland over recent years, and in particular the consequences of a political vacuum over the past year.
“In all scenarios set out by the NI Civil Service, we will see across the board cuts and will bring a deep impact on public services and our ability to invest in transforming our economy.
“These next two financial years were always going to be difficult as we are having real terms cuts in the size of the Block Grant. But this should have been driving any NI Executive and political parties to act in a strategic way, to reform and transform public services, and to address the substantial costs that are involving in unnecessary duplication of services.
“Even a standstill was never going to be enough as there are so many pressures in terms of public services, dealing with the legacy of the past, and investing in skills and a wider industrial strategy. Other societies are making those types of investments, and in not doing so, Northern Ireland risks getting left even further behind.
“In other jurisdictions in these islands, governments are already well advanced in their budget-making process. Northern Ireland remains behind schedule, and at best we will see a budget agreed and implemented at the last minute. This delayed approach does nothing to assist proper planning and related efficient and effective provision of public services.
“There is an urgent need for a devolved Executive that can take proper strategic decisions and make changes in policy. Even swift action will not produce significant results for another financial year. But by contrast, further political delays will further delay reforms and compound Northern Ireland’s unsustainable public finances and compromise the quality of life and opportunities of the people of Northern Ireland.”
The Briefing on the Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook 2018-20 is available at:
or by emailing: budgetbriefing2018@finance-ni.
or by writing to: