13 Jan 2004 : Column 23WS

Written Ministerial StatementsTuesday 13 January 2004


Priorities and Budget 2004–06

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson): Following consultation on the Government's Draft Priorities and Budget for Northern Ireland which was launched on 6 October 2003, I am today setting out the Government's priorities and spending plans for Northern Ireland Departments for the next two years 2004–05 to 2005–06.

When devolution was suspended in Northern Ireland we pledged that we would work tirelessly to rebuild trust across the political parties and bring about an early restoration of devolved Government. We have, and we will continue to work towards that aim. However, for as long as direct rule continues we are determined to govern in an open and fair way to improve the delivery of public services for the people of Northern Ireland in ways that meet their needs and expectations.

The Priorities and Budget which we are publishing today builds on the progress made by the Northern Ireland Executive under devolution and continued by Northern Ireland Ministerial Team since devolution was suspended. It is our view that the policies and priorities identified in the former Executive's Draft Programme for Government in September 2002, and continued in the "Building on Progress Priorities and Plans" which I announced in December 2002, remain relevant in the context of the economic and social challenges facing Northern Ireland. For this reason we have retained the five priorities as the basis for our work over the coming year.

The continuing priorities for delivery of public services in Northern Ireland therefore are:

We want to ensure that the four key cross cutting themes announced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in his statement on "Progress and Priorities" in June last year are fully reflected in all aspects of our work. These themes are:

13 Jan 2004 : Column 24WS

These priorities and themes are central to the work of Government in Northern Ireland and as such they are reflected in, and permeate through, all aspects of the Priorities and Budget we are announcing today.

Sectarianism and inter community conflict act as barriers to social and economic growth and recovery and as a disincentive to investment. Building trust and confidence between and within communities, promoting equality of opportunity and justice, for all, developing social capital and tackling sectarianism are key priorities for us.

Tackling poverty and social exclusion continues to be a key priority for us. Under devolution the former Executive adopted New Targeting Social Need as its strategic approach to combating poverty and committed to evaluating the effectiveness of this approach. This review is now complete and we will soon publish and consult on proposals for future policy and strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion.

We are committed to working in partnership with the voluntary and community sector, which plays a vital role in community development and in helping to promote social inclusion, tackle disadvantage and community division. We will therefore continue to support and facilitate better partnership working with the sector.

In pursuing these priorities we will seek to work in partnership with social and economic partners and to harness actions within and across departments and agencies to achieve measurable improvements in equality, poverty and disadvantage and community cohesion. We will continue to promote respect for cultural diversity and community understanding through a broad range of policies and programmes.

We remain fully committed to driving forward the equality and human rights agenda, which was central to the work of the former Executive. Work will continue across departments and agencies to ensure that equality considerations are fully mainstreamed into policy development across Government, and that there is effective operation of the statutory duties under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

In acknowledging our fundamental accountability to the people of Northern Ireland we recognise the importance of being able to demonstrate what is being achieved from the resources available to us. A particular focus of the Priorities and Budget we are announcing today is on improving the delivery of public services. We are committed to ensuring better public services for the people of Northern Ireland through improvements in the delivery of these services.

Last spring, departments published reform plans setting out priorities for reforming key services to improve the quality and delivery of services to the public. Those plans represented a useful first step, but the challenge now is not only to identify new ways of

13 Jan 2004 : Column 25WS

improving service delivery through reform and modernisation but also to demonstrate how and when improvement has been achieved. For this reason we have selected a number of key targets in the Public Service Agreements which are of particular importance and which my Ministerial colleagues and I will review on a regular basis over the coming year and beyond. These key targets reflect the cross cutting themes underlying the Priorities and Budget and cover a number of key public services including Health, Education, Employment; the Environment, Roads and Transport and Economic development.

Turning specifically to the Budget, I am now in a position to confirm our plans for 2004–05 and 2005–06, building on the proposals we outlined in the Draft Budget which we launched in October last year. The key development is a clear shift of spending power from consumption to investment. This is a clear step to increase the drive for significant reforms in the way public services are delivered in Northern Ireland, so that we can do even more to promote reinvestment than we had planned up to now.

In the course of last year's national Spending Review, the Chancellor allocated significant additional resources to Northern Ireland for the period up to April 2006, and the region's share of the sustained additional provision for health in 2006–07 and 2007–08. This year the resources available to us remain essentially those allocated at that time, supplemented by local revenue and the use of the borrowing power available under the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative as well as some £15 million for Northern Ireland announced in the Chancellor's pre-Budget report in December.

As I have indicated, improving the delivery of public services is a key focus of the Budget being announced today. We will do this by ensuring that the progress of reform and modernisation is accelerated so as to provide better public services, and by continuing to take forward the significant programme of infrastructure development initiated under the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative. This means some significant downward pressure on administrative costs in departments and Non-Departmental Public Bodies.

The budget allocations we are announcing today have been determined taking account of the level of revenue necessary to secure access to borrowing under the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative. After taking account of the additional revenue from the introduction of rating of vacant property and the phasing out of industrial de-rating an increase of approximately 9 per cent. on the domestic regional rates and 3.3 per cent. in the non domestic sector is necessary. If we assume that district councils increase their domestic rates by around 6 per cent. this will mean an increase of around £35 per year—less than 70p a week—in the average domestic rates bill and will ensure the continuation of the infrastructure development necessary for our public

13 Jan 2004 : Column 26WS

services. The Strategic Investment Programme which I announced in February last year provided for spending on infrastructure development in excess of £2 billion. The continued access to borrowing, which has been secured through increased revenue from rates means that we can continue to maintain the momentum of the Strategic Investment Programme, the total value of which is now in excess of £2.7 billion.

The resources available to us over the next two years provide for an increase of nearly 14 per cent. on spending on services. This is a substantial allocation which will provide for sustained economic growth and development across all key public services. The budget allocations reflect our commitment to improve public services through sustained investment. Capital allocations for almost all of the key public services have been increased above the levels in the draft Budget.

In seeking to provide better service delivery a key objective of this budget is to ensure more resources are directed to front line services by reducing bureaucracy and increasing efficiency. The budget provides for a reduction in departmental administration costs for the majority of departments of around 2 per cent. for next year, with further reductions in 2005–06, compared with the draft Budget in October.

Health remains the Government's top priority in Northern Ireland. The Budget provides for a rise of more than 16 per cent. in spending on health over the next two years. This will enable investment in priority services such as renal, cancer and other critical care services and will provide for enhancement to community, primary and intermediate care services and services for the elderly and those with mental illnesses.

Spending on Education will increase by almost 11 per cent. over the Budget period. The increased resources will enable schools to build on the impressive educational achievements of pupils in Northern Ireland. It will also enable Government to address a number of pressing issues in the educational sector including the continuation of existing support measures for schools in interface areas which are being adversely affected by continuing community tension. The schools estate will benefit significantly from investment under the Strategic Investment Programme with projects in excess of £246 million being taken forward over the next two years.

The Budget provides for increased spending on Regional Development of more than 15 per cent. over the next two years. This reflects the substantial additional resources for investment in roads, water and transport infrastructure, including a number of major capital programmes, and Public Private Partnership schemes to the value of some £530 million.

In agreeing the Priorities and Budget we have sought to ensure that resources are allocated to key public services to secure continuation of the required infrastructure development, fundamental to the

13 Jan 2004 : Column 27WS

effective delivery of key services such as Health, Education and Regional Development. At the same time we have sought to ensure that the planned allocations and the processes for managing them will secure the necessary improvements for better public services.

The Priorities and Budget fully reflect our determination to ensure that during this continuing period of suspension we will govern in an open and fair way to improve the delivery of public services for the people of Northern Ireland in ways that meet their needs and expectations.

I have placed copies of the "Priorities and Budget 2004–06" document in the Library.

13 Jan 2004 : Column 28WS


Civil Service (Management Functions) Act 1992

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Since the last report to Parliament, Official Report, 28 January 2003, column 34WS, new authorisations have been made to the Assets Recovery Agency and to the Chief Land Registrar, HM Land Registry from 20 February and 1 October 2003 respectively.

The authorisations were made subject to the condition that recipients comply with the provisions of the civil service management code as amended from time to time. Copies of the civil service management code are available in the Library of the House and electronically at http://www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/civilservice/managementcode/index.htm.