FINANCE Minister and South Belfast MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has thrown a lifeline to the Health Service in his first major announcement since taking over the post last month.
In the latest monitoring round, which Minister Ó Muilleoir said came about after government discussions which had “common purpose”, £72 million was allocated to the Health Service to deal with ongoing pressures, notably long waiting lists. And in a surprise development, no spending cuts are to take place at a time when London is continuing to pursue its austerity agenda.
A total of £175 million in allocations was announced in funding agreed by the Executive.
£30 million is going to schools, Minister Ó Muilleoir announced, with £5 million of that being directed at special educational needs. A further £20 million is being ploughed into skills, primarily in the further education sector, with £28 million going to the Department for Infrastructure for roads maintenance and building projects held up in recent years because of acute pressure on finances.
The Minister said: “This positive monitoring round represents a determination on my part to work with ministerial colleagues to deliver a 'fresh start' not just through words, but demonstrated in deeds. Despite huge pressures on budgets as a result of the Westminster austerity agenda, we have managed to bring forward a monitoring round which does not contain cuts. The allocations made in this monitoring round will deliver positive outcomes by supporting funding for key public services.
“The pressures in our Health Service are well documented and an additional £72 million funding will go a considerable way to help addressing these issues. It brings the total additional funding provided to health this year to £200 million and is evidence of the Executive’s commitment to protecting our Health Service.
“It is important that we invest in education and up-skilling our workforce as we seek to grow our economy. An additional £20million in this monitoring round will go towards supporting that skills agenda and an additional £30 million is allocated to education, which is a crucial investment in our young people.”
On capital allocations the Minister continued: “Whilst this monitoring round supports key Executive priorities, I am also proud that it aims to support our local communities. I have made £5.5 million available for co-ownership homes to ensure that more of our citizens can enjoy the right to a roof over their head and £2 million to fund welfare advice centres which will support the vulnerable, ensuring they receive their full benefit entitlements.
“As well as additional funding to help maintain our local roads infrastructure and provide flood prevention measures, I have also recognised the importance of working positively with communities to support local tourism projects and I have provided £1.3 million to ensure the HMS Caroline museum project can be completed.
“Additionally, I place great importance on the regeneration of border regions. Cross-border co-operation puts those communities at the heart of an all-island economy and that’s why I’m proud to be the first minister since 2010 to make a capital allocation to a cross-border body in a monitoring round.
“I recently visited the headquarters of Waterways Ireland and saw the transformational work they are involved in to make the Loch Erne waterway a beacon for tourism. Their ambitious plans will help create outstanding ‘blueways’ in Ireland, helping to boost tourism and create jobs and I am allocating £1.4 million to the Department for Infrastructure which will assist Waterways Ireland with their capital investment plans.
“This monitoring round demonstrates what can be achieved by working together, in spite of the financial constraints, and I will continue to make best endeavours to prevent the least well off from shouldering this burden.”