Questions asked as first £20m of DUP deal cash released

Politicians have welcomed plans to release the first £20m funding for health and education from the DUP’s £1bn ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the Tories.

However, questions were raised about how the money would be spent and what plans existed for the remaining cash.

Some £15m of the money released will go to health and £5m to education.

The Department of Health says the figure includes money for a 1% pay rise, but this can’t be delivered immediately because there is no minister in place.

The £20m is included in a total of almost £115m that the Department of Finance is reallocating to help meet funding pressures at Stormont.

Health is the biggest winner with £54m, while £26m is being made available for education and another £26m for roads and infrastructure.

Welcoming the additional funding, Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir said: “The finance allocated should ensure that planned cuts to health and education programmes do not proceed.

“We know there are ongoing cuts to the block grant as the Tory government, supported by the DUP, continue an austerity agenda robbing public services of the support that they need.

“This Tory cuts agenda is further exacerbated by the threat posed to our economy by Brexit when the clear will of the people in the North is to remain within Europe.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs called for an explanation as to why only £20m was being drawn down for health and education.

“The de facto Health Minister, permanent secretary Richard Pengelly, needs to outline why, given the length of waiting lists and demand on the health service, only £15m (for health) will be accessed in this financial year and what the plans are for the remaining money,” he said.  

“Is it a case that this is still an administration that can’t spend the money it’s given?

“Our health service needs certainty and that will not come without a minister at the helm taking decisions that are accountable to an Assembly.”

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said questions remained over a pay increase for NHS staff.

“The money has now, at long last, been made available for a pay increase for front line staff. But my understanding is, critically, that it is dependent on political agreement here,” he said.

“That means without a Health Minister there will be no allocation to staff who have stretched themselves to breaking point to cover the failings of politicians.

“The DUP and Sinn Fein should come forward now and say which issue is more important than the long overdue pay increase for nurses and doctors treating the sick and vulnerable.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “While the DUP will no doubt give themselves a pat on the back for squeezing £20m out this year of their so-called £1bn deal with the Tories, they should know it’s not good enough having money resting in an account, it needs to be spent.

“And we need a government here to spend it.”

Northern Ireland shadow secretary of state Owen Smith said while nobody would oppose more money being spent on health and education here, allocating funds without prior parliamentary approval was unacceptable.

“Parliament will get to vote on the issue, but only after the fact,” he said.

“It’s a bit like applying for planning approval after you’ve built the bungalow, and it’s unlikely to help build trust in the openness and accountability of decision-making in Northern Ireland.”

Belfast Telegraph

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