Stormont approves draft budget going for public consultation despite DUP opposition

It is understood the SDLP, Alliance and UUP joined Sinn Féin to vote to support the budget’s top-line aim – to prioritise health spending.
Stormont approves draft budget going for public consultation despite DUP opposition

David Young, PA

Stormont Ministers have agreed to send the Executive’s draft three-year budget out for public consultation despite the DUP voting against the spending plans.

A majority of Ministers backed a compromise proposal that will allow Minister for Finance Conor Murphy to publish the spending plan and put it out for a 12-week consultation on Monday.

It is understood the SDLP, Alliance and UUP joined Sinn Féin to vote to support the budget’s top-line aim – to prioritise health spending.

The three smaller parties did not give endorsement to the detailed department allocations contained in the plans.

They did, however, support the draft budget going out for public consultation as an Executive budget.

Stand-off

The largest party in the administration DUP voted against the draft budget in its current form.

The meeting was convened to in a bid to resolve a stand-off over the budget.

Mr Murphy wanted the backing of ministerial colleagues before sending the draft spending plan out for public consultation.

However, several ministers had expressed a reluctance to formally support the draft budget at this point.

The budget plan is set to see funding cut to several departments as Mr Murphy has sought to prioritise spending on Northern Ireland’s under-pressure health system.

Before the budget can be finalised and agreed by the Executive and Assembly, it must be subjected to a 12-week public consultation exercise.

With the Assembly due to be dissolved at the end of March ahead of the next Assembly election, Mr Murphy had to commence the consultation exercise before Christmas if those timelines are to be met.

He wanted the plan to go out as an agreed Executive budget and resisted suggestions it could be presented as a Department of Finance budget.

Such a move would have potentially given Sinn Féin’s political opponents on the Executive more latitude to scrutinise and even criticise the plans during the consultation period.

It is understood Mr Murphy raised concerns at Thursday’s Executive, insisting he was not prepared to put out the budget for consultation without the backing of the wider Executive.

Ahead of Friday’s Executive, Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “Sinn Féin Finance minister has prioritised funding to tackle waiting lists, transform our health service and support healthcare workers.”

The compromise position will enable the budget to be published as a draft Executive budget while a majority of ministers have reserved their position on backing the final spending allocations.

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