UK minister unveils NI spending spree

20/12/2004 - 11:12:00

Radical proposals for a multi billion-pound spending spree to address Northern Ireland’s infrastructure deficit were announced today.

A 10-year framework for regeneration, produced by the Strategic Investment Board, anticipates the delivery of £16bn (€23.3bn) in key investment on such things as roads, schools and hospitals.

It was announced by British Finance Minister Ian Pearson as he delivered the revised budget for Northern Ireland for next year and the following two years.

Public spending will top £9bn (€13.1bn) a year in the North by 2007-2008 – up by 20% in real terms over the six years from 2002 – and infrastructure investment will grow by 30% alone next year, he said.

He described the budget and infrastructure spending plans as “an unprecedented expansion of investment”.

With health and education taking the lion’s share of the spending – health 40% of the total annual budget alone – there has been belt-tightening in other departments.

Mr Pearson also confirmed previously announced plans to cut the size of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland by 2,300 over the next three years.

To help pay for the increased spending, Mr Pearson announced inflation-busting rises in domestic rates of 9% in each of the next two years and 6% the year after. Non-domestic rates will go up by 3.3% in each of the years.

Controversial water charges are also due to be introduced in 2006 which will increase household bills by several hundred pounds a year. Mr Pearson said he knew they were a source of concern but they were needed if major improvements in infrastructure were to be carried forward.

Outlining the draft investment strategy for infrastructure spending, he said: “This is the first time such a comprehensive and far-sighted view of Northern Ireland’s investment needs has been prepared.

“It is a major step forward in the way in which we plan for the future and will deliver benefits to all of the community.”

Spending, through a combination of public-private partnership, borrowing and traditional government investment, could deliver £16bn (€23.3bn) of investment by 2015.

Mr Pearson said it would “radically improve” the quality of public service delivery in Northern Ireland.

Returning to the budget for the next three years, Mr Pearson said current health spending will increase by 23%, bringing the annual total to £3.7bn (€5.4bn) in 2007-2008.

Speaking in Belfast, he declared: “Those additional resources will go towards delivering targets such as ensuring the maximum waiting time for patients will be reduced to six months by 2010.”

He said by March 2008 all patients asking for a clinical appointment would be able to see a primary care professional within two working days and by 2010 the British government wanted to reduce the death rate from circulatory diseases by at least 20% in people under 75.

Northern Ireland has some of the longest waiting lists in the UK and, with pay swallowing up the vast amount of annual spending – 75% – officials already admit the targets are tough.

On education, Mr Pearson said there would be an 11% increase in spending over the three-year period and a 62% rise in capital investment.

“A high-quality education system remains a top priority for the (British) government and this budget will allow us to take forward a programme of major education reform that will change and improve substantially what our children learn, how they learn and the environment within which they learn,” said the minister.

He said British government wanted to see substantial and measurable improvements to educational attainment by 2008 at primary, GCSE and A-Levels and had set new targets.

:: 80% of primary school pupils achieving Level 4 or above in Key Stage 2 English and 83% in maths;

:: 63% of Year 12 pupils obtaining five or more GCSEs (or equivalent) at grades A to C;

:: 60% of Year 14 pupils achieving three or more A-Levels at grades A to C (or equivalent).

The government, he said, also wanted to reduce differentials in attainment. For those in the most disadvantaged secondary schools targets had been set under which by 2008 at least 83% of Year 12 pupils would obtain five or more GCSEs at grades A to C.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?