Budget Deadline Day?
Giving evidence to the NI Affairs Committee at the end of January, Mr Sterling stated that without a budget in place by this date, it would be “very difficult to deliver services”. However, there isn’t much sign of a budget and all-party talks here to form a government have been postponed until tomorrow.
In response to questions yesterday, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley said that in relation to the talks here, agreement had not yet been reached but that there was a “collective commitment towards restoration of devolution”. She also added that she sees the talks as taking weeks, rather than months.
The Northern Ireland Civil service have been in the position, since January 2017, of exercising responsibilities in the absence of decision making by elected representatives, however they do not have a mandate for setting new policies or holding public bodies to account. This includes introducing policies and plans to deal with the unique challenges posed by Brexit. It was stated by Mr Sterling that there are around 500 pieces of legislation that need to be re-drafted because of Brexit.
In relation to Brexit, the Department for the Economy advised NICVA this week that it is engaged in multiple parallel discussions on difference scenarios with their Whitehall counterparts. The phase one deal agreed in December 2017 which included a commitment to protecting North-South co-operation, avoiding a hard border and any new regulatory barriers is due to be discussed again this week, but it is still unclear what this will look like in practice. A government assessment has suggested that the economy here could take a 12% hit if there is no Brexit deal. Taking into account the potential harmful impacts of Brexit, NICVA has stated that it is essential that the UK remains in the Single Market and the Customs Union.
Questions were also put to Mr Sterling around the £1 billion confidence and supply money negotiated by the DUP. He advised that the Civil Service had so far only drawn down £20 million of the £100 million that was made available to address health and education pressures over the next two years. £50 million in total was made available to draw down this year however, due to the predicted pressures of a “different order of magnitude” faced in health and education next year, they have agreed with the Treasury to carry forward the remaining money from this year and will expect to be able to draw down £80 million next year.
In November 2017, in the absence of a budget for 2017-18, then Secretary of State James Brokenshire passed a budget at Westminster based on what had been agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive the previous year.