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Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 06 February 2008

COMMITTEE FOR 
FINANCE AND PERSONNEL

OFFICIAL REPORT
(Hansard)

Budget Bill 2008

6 February 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings: 
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin (Chairperson) 
Mr Roy Beggs 
Dr Stephen Farry 
Mr Simon Hamilton 
Ms Jennifer McCann 
Mr Adrian McQuillan 
Mr Declan O’Loan 
Mr Peter Weir

Witnesses:
Mr Michael Daly ) Department of Finance and Personnel
Mrs Agnes Lennon )

The Chairperson (Mr McLaughlin):
The main purpose of this session is for the Committee to consider whether it is content to allow accelerated passage of the Budget Bill and that there has been appropriate consultation on the public expenditure proposals in the Bill. The Budget timetable was not available for last week’s meeting but has now been included in members’ papers. In addition, the paper on annual Estimates and Budget Bill procedure provided at last week’s meeting has been included in members’ papers today.

I welcome Michael Daly and Agnes Lennon from central expenditure division; they will now make some preliminary comments to the Committee.

Mr Michael Daly (Department of Finance and Personnel):
Thank you. Last week, we explained the content and purpose of the spring Supplementary Estimates and Vote on Account documents. The Budget Bill is the legislative means by which Assembly approval will be sought to incur the expenditure and use the resources outlined in those two documents for the remainder of this financial year and for the start of the next one.

In addition, the Budget Bill will enable the Assembly to hold Departments accountable for managing within the authorised limits. The Bill also contains powers to issue sums from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund to the various spending authorities and sets limits on the accruing resources or receipts that will be brought in and provides the authority to use those against the various services.

Subject to the Assembly’s approval of two Supply resolutions, which are due to be debated on Monday 11 February — one in respect of the spring Supplementary Estimates and the other relating to the Vote on Account — the Budget Bill will be introduced to the Assembly by the Minister of Finance and Personnel immediately after those debates. Subject to successful passage through the legislative process, the Bill will be enacted upon Royal Assent, which, as we explained last week, must be before 31 March 2008 if public services are to continue — hence the need for accelerated passage.

Members have been provided with copies of the Bill. It contains seven clauses and four schedules, and is relatively straightforward when compared with the Estimates document. We have drafted an associated explanatory and financial memorandum, which will help members to understand the Bill. I will outline the main elements in the Bill before asking Mrs Lennon to draw out some of the links between the Bill and the spring Supplementary Estimates and Vote on Account documents.

As I said, the main clauses in the Bill will authorise the sums required from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund for the year just ending and the uses to which those resources may be put to. Also included is the authority to use the accruing resources for the current financial year. Similarly, there are clauses to provide powers to issue the sums required from the Consolidated Fund and to incur expenditure in the next financial year — only on an interim basis — until the next Budget Bill and the related Main Estimates are introduced to the Assembly later in the year.

The Bill’s four, more detailed, schedules summarise the precise sums associated with those powers in respect of the Departments and other public bodies to which the Bill relates. Those figures relate directly to the more detailed figure work in the spring Supplementary Estimates and Vote on Account documents. At this point, it would be helpful if Mrs Lennon were to draw out some of the links between the Budget Bill and the more detailed documents.

Mrs Agnes Lennon (Department of Finance and Personnel):
As Mr Daly said, the Bill’s clauses provide the high-level figures and the schedules provide the details. For example, details relating to the total cash requirement for the year ending 31 March 2008 are set out in schedule 1 and the total figure of £11,851,642,000, on page 10, is contained in clause 1.

Similarly, detailed information on the resource figure of £14,429,839,000 contained in clause 2 can be found in schedule 2 on page 19; details on the Vote on Account figure for cash of £5,335,212,000 contained in clause 4 are given in schedule 3 on page 25, and details on the use of resources figure of £6,493,908,000 contained in clause 6 are set out in schedule 4 on page 32.

I will now take members through some details in the schedules. Last week, the Committee was particularly interested in the figures for the Department of Finance and Personnel: perhaps we should continue in that vein. Schedule 1 of the Bill quotes the cash requirement for the Department of Finance and Personnel on page 6. Last week, we briefly discussed the change figure of £73,937,000, which is shown in brackets in schedule 1, and we explained how that figure was arrived at in the spring Supplementary Estimates. The actual requirement for the Department of £281,344,000, which is also set out in schedule 1, can be found in table 1, page 4, and in the cash reconciliation table on page 140 of the spring Supplementary Estimates, which we looked at last week.

Therefore, each figure in the schedules of the Budget Bill is lifted directly from the detailed figure work in the spring Supplementary Estimates. As regards the Vote on Account, the figures in schedules 3 and 4 of the Budget Bill also appear for each relevant Department in the Vote on Account 2008-2009. For example, the figure of £126,605,000 for the Department of Finance and Personnel, which appears in schedule 3 of the Bill on page 21, also appears in page 3, column 6, in table 1 of the Vote on Account 2008-09 document. Therefore, the figures are lifted directly from the spring Supplementary Estimates 2007-08 and are set out in the Vote on Account 2008-09 document and the Budget Bill.

I now want to talk for a moment about the text in the first column of each schedule, which is called an ambit and covers all the services that each Department delivers. It is very important that every service that a Department provides is covered in the ambit, because there is no legal authority to spend money on any service not mentioned. If that were to happen, the Department concerned would have to ask for an excess Vote from the Assembly. Therefore, it is very important that all services are listed in the ambits.

The same applies to the Vote on Account 2008-09, although the ambits there may be slightly different. For example, the Department of Finance and Personnel’s 2008-09 ambit in the Budget Bill is slightly different from the 2007-08 ambit because the Department deliver different services in the next financial year and the ambit must provide for this. Therefore, Departments must be very careful to include the relevant services in the ambits or there would be no legal authority to spend money on them.

The Chairperson:
In addition to the meeting today, and the one last week on the spring Supplementary Estimates 2007-08 and the Vote on Account 2008-09, the Committee was fully briefed by the Department during each of the quarterly monitoring rounds in the current financial year. Today’s briefing has covered the strategic and cross-departmental position, as well as the Department of Personnel’s position, and has been a key part of the consultation process.

Is the Committee content that there has been an appropriate level of consultation on the public expenditure proposals in the Budget Bill ( Northern Ireland) 2008, and is it content to grant accelerated passage to the Bill in accordance with Standing Order 40(2)?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:
A suitable letter, a draft of which is contained in Members’ papers, will be sent to the Speaker after this meeting. Thank you, Michael and Agnes, for your presentation.

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