3 Ordinarily the passage of a Budget Bill to authorise the issue of sums from the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland is a devolved matter, taken through the Northern Ireland Assembly by Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive. However, there has been no Executive since 9 January 2017, when the then deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland resigned, which also resulted in the First Minister ceasing to hold office. The Northern Ireland Assembly has not met since its first post-election meeting in March 2017. Without an Executive to agree a Budget and a sitting Assembly to pass Budget Bills, it falls to Parliament to legislate to provide authority for expenditure in Northern Ireland.
4 Budget Bills are normally passed twice during each financial year when the devolved institutions are in place. The first is done based on the opening budget position for the financial year following the agreement of a Budget. The second is done at the end of the financial year to seek authority for the changes which have been made to the budget allocations during the course of the financial year. In order to allow space for talks with the Northern Ireland political parties the first Northern Ireland Budget Bill was not brought forward at the start of the 2017-18 financial year. Instead the Northern Ireland Budget Act 2017 was passed by Parliament in November 2017 in order to provide the required authorisations and appropriations for the full 2017-18 financial year based on the most up to date spending plans at that time.
5 Following this, the Northern Ireland Civil Service continued to manage the delivery of services in Northern Ireland. This involved the reallocation and reprioritisation of some budgets, and also the allocation of new funding which has become available to the Northern Ireland administration as a result of the funds authorised by Parliament in the UK Estimates process. Parliament’s authorisation for these revisions was provided in the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2018 in March 2018.
6 In addition to providing the authorisations and appropriations for the revised amounts required for the full 2017-18 financial year, the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2018 also provided authorisations and appropriations for a vote on account. This was to allow Northern Ireland departments and other public bodies to continue to deliver public services into the early months of the 2018-19 financial year.
7 This vote on account is a normal process for any Supply and Appropriation Bill and did not imply the setting of a 2018-19 Budget for the Northern Ireland departments and other public bodies. Its purpose was to provide access to cash and resources, approximately 45 per cent of the amount authorised for the previous financial year, to ensure that services could continue to be delivered pending the consideration of a Budget Bill for the full 2018-19 financial year.
8 The amounts authorised and appropriated in the vote on account will begin to be exhausted from 31 July 2018, and the purpose of the Bill now being introduced is to provide the authorisations and appropriations for the balance to complete each department’s full 2018-19 cash and resource requirements. The figures in this Bill are based on the 2018-19 Budget announced in Parliament for the Northern Ireland departments by the Secretary of State on 8 March 2018, adjusted for the distribution of some centrally held funding, and technical transfers between departments for items such as central HR functions.
9 This Bill is a minimal step to ensure that public services can continue to be provided in Northern Ireland for the full financial year. It leaves in place the requirement for devolved spending decisions to be made by the Northern Ireland Executive or, in the ongoing absence of Ministers, the Northern Ireland Civil Service. In addition the revised allocations set out in the Bill continue to be based on the advice of the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Northern Ireland Civil Service Board.
10 No new money would be voted as a result of the Bill. Instead it will appropriate sums already provided to the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland through the UK Estimates process, together with revenue generated within Northern Ireland under the Assembly’s devolved powers.