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Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 04 February 2009

COMMITTEE FOR FINANCE AND PERSONNEL

OFFICIAL REPORT
(Hansard)

Budget Bill 2009 – Spring Supplementary Estimates and Vote on Account

4 February 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Mitchel McLaughlin (Chairperson)
Mr Simon Hamilton (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Stephen Farry 
Mr Fra McCann
Ms Jennifer McCann
Mr David McNarry
Mr Adrian McQuillan
Mr Declan O’Loan
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr
Ms Dawn Purvis
Mr Peter Weir

Witnesses:

Mr Michael Daly ) Department of Finance and Personnel
Ms Agnes Lennon )

The Chairperson (Mr McLaughlin):

I welcome Michael Daly and Agnes Lennon from the Department of Finance and Personnel.

Mr Michael Daly (Department of Finance and Personnel):

Committee members should be familiar with the Spring Supplementary Estimates which we will discuss today, and the Main Estimates, which will come later in the year. Ms Lennon and I are here today to assist the Committee with its scrutiny of the Spring Supplementary Estimates, and we will be back next week. Given the detail involved, I cannot promise to be able to answer every single question, but, if issues are raised that we cannot answer, we will take those away and come back to the Committee urgently. The key is to proceed with the associated draft Budget Bill by accelerated passage.

There are two elements: the Spring Supplementary Estimates will tidy up all of the changes that have taken place during the year; for example, the monitoring rounds. They also bring all of that into line with how the expenditure plans are now sitting.

The associated Budget Bill also has two elements. First, it provides the statutory authority for the expenditure, to take account of what has happened during the monitoring rounds. Secondly, it includes the important Vote on Account, which allows public services to continue until such time as the Main Estimates for 2009-2010, and the associated Budget Bill, are brought to the Committee and the Assembly and voted on. It provides the power for expenditure for the early part of next year.

The Chairperson:

What is the timeline for introduction to the Assembly?

Ms Agnes Lennon (Department of Finance and Personnel):

I think that it will be in early June.

Mr Daly:

In 2008, the Budget Bill was introduced in late May and the process continued into June. That Bill also received accelerated passage. We will be going through the same process with the Committee and in the Chamber for the main Budget for 2009-2010.

Members will know that the Budget Bill contains much detail, so we have prepared a briefing paper, which contains additional information that was not contained in the briefing papers we sent to the Committee in respect of the Spring Supplementary Estimates and the Main Estimates.

Ideally, the Spring Supplementary Estimates are reconciled with the December monitoring position; however, doing so would mean that any decisions on expenditure taken in the February monitoring round would be constrained by SSEs that are drafted in that way. Mr O’Loan made that point during our discussion on the December monitoring round, so we have provided some additional information to show how we are working through that.

We have built headroom into a number of departmental Estimates. That headroom is to cover areas in which things have changed since the December monitoring round and which we want to bring into line. It is also to cover areas where Departments have indicated that they will bid in the February monitoring round. It is not that decisions have been taken on February monitoring, because the returns are not in yet, but the headroom covers bids that look reasonable and to which the Executive may want to allocate resources if available. We do not want to have the situation at February monitoring round in which funding is available to be reallocated against public services but be constrained by the Estimates covering that so that the money could not be spent.

The document also sets out some initial reduced requirements from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Finance and Personnel, and those Departments have adjusted their Estimates to reflect that. Our document also sets out some technical adjustments between Departments, where Departments have said what they will do in the December and February monitoring rounds. To illustrate how all of that works at a high level, we have provided a reconciliation from last year’s Main Estimates, and have included, in summary level, all of the changes due to in-year monitoring, the technical changes, and the anticipated changes up to the Spring Supplementary Estimates.

Mr McNarry:

On a technical point, are there likely to be any legal impediments to the Bill due to the stocktake process?

Mr Daly:

No. There are two elements to the Bill. The first one deals with the current financial year. If the Bill does not pass through the Assembly and receive Royal Assent, a lot of expenditure that Departments have made since the beginning of the financial year — such as those that arose as a result of increases in the monitoring rounds — would be irregular. Therefore it has to happen.

I think that Mr McNarry is referring to the Vote on Account, which looks at next year’s situation. The stocktake was a snapshot in time of the sorts of issues that Departments will face next year and the following year. The Vote on Account, basically, takes 45% of the Budget that was approved by the Assembly this year, because business has to continue. We do not take any more than 45%, because one cannot presume that the Assembly will approve the full Main Estimates. That percentage allows the process to go through the Assembly and be voted on. If the Bill passes through its Stages and receives Royal Assent, full provision is given.

The stocktake is a separate issue: it is horizon scanning. The Bill sets into legal authority the issues that will have to be addressed this year and during the first part of next year.

Mr McNarry:

Regardless of whether the stocktake is legal, are you telling me that it will not come back and bite us? That is what I am worried about.

Mr Daly:

The Vote on Account asks for only 45% provision for next year to allow the Main Estimates process to proceed.

The Chairperson:

It allows the Departments to continue to function and spend money.

Mr Daly:

Everything would come to a stop on 31 March if there were no statutory authority. Therefore the Vote on Account is necessary.

Ms Purvis:

Will you clarify clause 5, which allows for temporary borrowing by the Department of Finance and Personnel?

Ms Lennon:

That is in relation to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, which is akin to the Executive’s current account. Clause 5 will permit the Consolidated Fund to go into the red, temporarily, and up to the limit stated. At no time does it ever go near that limit, but the provision is available. It is half of the amount of cash that is voted to issue in clause 4.

Ms Purvis:

Is that a normal provision?

Ms Lennon:

It is included in every Budget Bill. In order to run the Consolidated Fund on a monthly basis, one does allow it to go into the red sometimes, and clause 5 provides cover for that.

Mr Hamilton:

It is humorous to compare the Consolidated Fund to a current account. You had better not leave the PIN lying around. I am interested in the concept of headroom. Is that a new concept? It is new to me.

Ms Lennon:

It is not normal, and it is not something that is adopted lightly. Estimates should be realistic and taut, and they should be written to the latest agreed Budget position. However, with some of the developments since the December monitoring round, and some of the decisions that have been made by the Executive, it was thought prudent to build in headroom this year.

On adopting that concept, DPF issued letters to the relevant Departments setting out certain conditions. For instance, the headroom will only be used if allocations are made in the February monitoring round; it does not pre-empt the February monitoring round. If it is used, it will be used for those services only, and Departments cannot later request virement from DFP to move money from another service or function in which they have overspent. Headroom is provided with strict conditions, and it is not adopted lightly.

Mr Hamilton:

The total of £342 million of resources and £96 million of capital is significant, and it is unlikely to be realised. I would love to see that amount of money become available in the February monitoring round and distributed, but that is highly unlikely to be the case.

Mr Daly:

That is correct.

Mr Hamilton:

Perhaps it is unfair to describe it thus, but it is like an insurance policy in the budgetary process to allow for that expenditure wherever there is priority — if resources become available or are allocated by the Executive.

Mr Daly:

That is correct. Without headroom, there is a risk that significant sums would come out and that it would not be possible to allocate those sums to Departments. As a result, public services that could have been funded would not be funded. As Ms Lennon said, we thought long and hard before we provided headroom, but it contributes towards our trying to make the best use of the resources that are available throughout the year.

Given the toing and froing that goes on between Departments, it would be unnatural to be in a position, at this time of the year, to say that, no matter what happens in the next couple of months; all spending would be finished until April.

Mr Hamilton:

So, headroom will allow you to spend on those types of things.

Ms Lennon:

In most February monitoring rounds one cannot make additional allocations because there is no legal authority to do so. That legal authority would not be given in the Budget Bill.

Mr Hamilton:

In many ways, this is providing not only headroom but a heads up for the February monitoring round.

Mr Daly:

It is a heads up on the significant areas in which we believe Departments might seek funding. As Ms Lennon explained, headroom ensures that Departments have the necessary statutory authority. Departments can still submit small bids in areas for which they have sufficient cover in their Estimates; however, some of the items here are big, so it is necessary to build in headroom.

Mr McNarry:

Are you telling us that headroom is relatively new?

Ms Lennon:

It is not novel; it has happened in the past, but it is not something that we do lightly.

Mr McNarry:

But, it is new information. What did you do before this to provide headroom?

Ms Lennon:

Most years, we write the Spring Supplementary Estimates following the December monitoring position — the last agreed Budget position — which means that budgetary control and the Assembly’s control, through the Budget Act, run in tandem.

Mr McNarry:

I understand your reasoning. However, I am intrigued by what you might be anticipating in February.

Ms Lennon:

Our briefing paper includes a list of what we anticipate. For example, we have built in headroom in respect of the decision taken by the Executive last Thursday on the voluntary cull and disposal scheme.

Mr McNarry:

So, there are elements of forward and, sometimes, backward planning.

Mr Daly:

Although resources will become available in the February monitoring round, we do not know what they will be today because returns have yet to come in. However, Departments have been flagging up the sorts of things that they want to do if resources become available. Therefore, rather than ignore them and simply say that we will base the Estimates on the December monitoring round, headroom has been built in, and, in the event that resources become available, the Executive will have the scope, and Departments will have the capacity, to take on and spend that money.

Mr McNarry:

Is there potential for reordering priorities using that mechanism?

Mr Daly:

The only potential from the February monitoring round will be to take whatever resources that Departments surrender and — as I said during the briefing on the December monitoring round — consider those in the context of the over-commitment that must be managed. Subsequently, the Executive, according to recommendations from the Finance Minister, will decide on how much money, if any, can be allocated to those priorities or to any other priorities that might arise in the Department’s returns. If we were not to do that this year, as I said in December, the February monitoring round would be a constrained and low-key exercise.

Mr McNarry:

Is headroom only applied to the February monitoring round?

Mr Daly:

It is built in to the Spring Supplementary Estimates.

Ms Lennon:

It is built in to the total year’s authority to spend by Departments. If we had not built in headroom, then some of the Executive’s recent decisions concerning, for example, fuel poverty or the cull could not be taken into account in the February monitoring round.

Mr Daly:

Another way to explain headroom is to consider all the additional payments that have been received by Departments during previous monitoring rounds. Their Estimates have been increased to accommodate those. With headroom, we are saying that there may be additional allocations during the February monitoring round, and that, therefore, we are almost anticipating that that will happen and are increasing the Estimates further. As Ms Lennon said earlier, it is clear that the more than £300 million headroom that we have built in will not emerge, so the vast bulk of bids will not be met in the February monitoring round, and Departments will not be allowed to spend within that scope.

Mr McNarry:

You are dispelling anxieties that you are in disarray.

Mr Daly:

I hope so. We are not in disarray. Basically, this is about trying to maximise the opportunities that will be available at the February monitoring round.

Mr McNarry:

I did not mean that you, yourselves, are in disarray.

Ms Lennon:

I was just wondering who you meant was in disarray. [Laughter.]

Mr Daly:

I hope that I have explained the situation.

The Chairperson:

Could the additional headroom be deployed as a possible contingency plan for underspend?

Mr Daly:

If significant resources emerged in the February monitoring round —

The Chairperson:

Given the historical patterns, and despite the reports this year, we are all still worried about a crisis.

Mr Daly:

If the additional headroom is not built in to the Spring Supplementary Estimates, any significant resources that emerge in the February monitoring round could not be allocated, because Departments could not spend those. This allows us to maximise the opportunities that emerge.

Mr McNarry:

Therefore, there is no re-prioritising or reordering of issues: are you saying that that cannot be done through this mechanism?

Mr Daly:

This is a normal monitoring round, in the sense that the procedures are same — Departments submit bids and reduced requirements. The headroom has been built in to provide flexibility in order to make best use of the resources.

Mr McNarry:

On the back of that, is it coincidental that this is happening so close to the end of the financial year? Why does it have to be done in February?

Mr Daly:

The additional headroom has been included now because this is when we are producing the Spring Supplementary Estimates. If we were in June, September or December, we would know what cover we want to build into the Spring Supplementary Estimates to facilitate the making of decisions.

Mr McNarry:

That explanation dispels my anxieties that there will be a mad scramble to spend money in the last months of this financial year, as has happened in previous years.

Mr Daly:

The issue of end-of-year surges has been raised at this Committee before, but that is not what this is about. This is about creating sufficient headroom. Departments, even in their Main Estimates, will have built in the cover that they need to make decisions during the year, because, for various reasons, sometimes expenditure is not required until later in the financial year. However, that is not what this is about.

Dr Farry:

Is there a danger with this approach in that, if there are significant underspends in Departments, it will be difficult for them, with respect to their outturn figures, to demonstrate their capacity to stay within their limits?

Ms Lennon:

That depends on what allocations are made in February monitoring. Perhaps no allocations will be made in February monitoring; therefore, the outturn will be measured against the Budget position at the end of the February monitoring and not necessarily against the Estimates. The accounts will be measured against the Estimates, and any 10% variation has to be explained in the accounts.

Dr Farry:

Therefore, any gaps that may emerge will be addressed through the Budget lines as opposed to through the accounts? Therefore, the risk is not really contained in the Spring Supplementary Estimates.

Ms Lennon:

It has to do with underspends.

Dr Farry:

Is there anywhere in which there is the danger of a 10% variation emerging?

Ms Lennon:

We do not know, because these are departmental Estimates.

Dr Farry:

As regards the figures, is the February monitoring round constrained by what is included in your briefing paper? Do things have to occur within that framework or is there capacity for them to happen outside that context?

Ms Lennon:

It is constrained by the limits in the Budget Bill.

Mr Daly:

In effect, it is constrained by what is in the Spring Supplementary Estimates. There will be areas in that document not covered in our paper. For instance, a Department could say that because there has been a reduction in one area, it already has sufficient capacity built into its Estimates. In our paper, Departments are saying that these are the significant areas in which they could be bidding and for which they cannot provide cover in their Estimates, and so the Estimates need to be increased.

Dr Farry:

The farm nutrient management scheme received considerable capital investment in December and more is now being sought for it.

Ms Lennon:

The scheme finished on 31 December. More information is now available, particularly about the number of applicants, and there is no doubt that a bid will be made in the February monitoring round. This is about building in headroom for that; it does not mean that there is any indication that such a bid will be met.

Mr O’Loan:

To follow up on a remark that you made earlier on the occasions when the Spring Supplementary Estimates only went as far as the December monitoring round; what then gave the legal cover to the February monitoring round?

Ms Lennon:

The February monitoring round could not make any significant additional allocations because it was constrained by the Budget Bill. If you are talking about a difficulty; it is about the timing. The Budget Bill must receive Royal Assent before the end of March. That Bill is the method by which the Assembly controls spending. It is the Assembly that calls accounting officers to account on the back of the Budget Bill and the Votes contained in it.

Mr Daly:

Departments can incur expenditure even if no headroom is built in, provided that, in spite of the changes that have taken place during the year, they have sufficient scope to make additional payments.

Mr O’Loan:

Does that mean that you are expecting a considerably more active February monitoring round this year than the norm?

Mr Daly:

Given the additional headroom, and if additional resources become available, those allocations can be made. However, it will all depend on the reduced requirements that come in from Departments.

Mr O’Loan:

My point is that you have built in headroom this year, which is something that you have not always done. You must have a reason for doing that.

Ms Lennon:

A couple of Executive decisions have been made since December monitoring. If we had not built in the headroom, those Executive decisions could not be implemented.

Mr O’Loan:

Can you be specific?

Ms Lennon:

Examples include the decisions on the cull and on fuel poverty.

Ms Purvis:

In your paper, there is information on technical adjustments with the NIO that are anticipated in the Spring Supplementary Estimates. Will you explain the reason for the minus figure?

Ms Lennon:

For example, the first one is an adjustment of services provided under HR Connect, so it is actually a receipt to DFP.

Mr Daly:

The DFP Estimate shows a number of adjustments coming in from Departments in relation to the central reform projects. That is highlighted on the front of the Estimate.

Ms Purvis:

Will you explain the figure relating to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety?

Ms Lennon:

That is a similar situation — responsibility for prisoners’ health was taken over by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

Ms Purvis:

Does that figure indicate a receipt?

Ms Lennon:

It is an adjustment. Very often, technical adjustments are made towards the end of the financial year, when actual expenditure and outlay are known.

The Chairperson:

We have had some discussion about the Estimates being taut and realistic. There has also been discussion about the headroom — the £440 million being built into the Estimates to facilitate the February monitoring round, but with no guarantee that those resources will be allocated by the Executive. Does that mean that there is an acceptance that the Estimates might be inaccurate? Does it conflict with the statement that they are taut and realistic?

Mr Daly:

If we were very strict and wrote the Spring Supplementary Estimates to the December monitoring position, that would put the Executive in a difficult position to make any additional allocations. However, as Ms Lennon indicated earlier, although additional headroom has been included to facilitate spend — to the extent that allocations will not be made in any of the areas outlined in the DFP paper, we have put very tight controls in place to ensure that Departments cannot use the additional headroom for anything else. The main thing is that Departments are being very transparent about this as well, which is why we are bringing it to the Committee’s attention and why we have asked Departments to ensure that their Ministers bring it to the attention of their Committees. Transparency is the key.

Mr McNarry:

I am clear that there is nothing additional coming, and that headroom does not consist of moving things about. It is really some sort of juggling act into the unknown?

Mr Daly:

No; headroom is just providing —

Mr McNarry:

Surely we have always had headroom; it is just that — thanks to Simon Hamilton, who introduced it today, I think — we have latched on to this new name for it.

Mr Daly:

We have always had the capacity to provide headroom, but it is not something that we would do lightly. This year, there are big issues; and some of them are quite significant. We felt that it was necessary to build in capacity. It is not juggling things around; it is basically saying that if there are sufficient resources, then we have provided the Executive with the capacity to allocate funding to any of those areas up to that level.

Mr McNarry:

I cannot see why there is an emphasis on the word "if", regarding sufficient resources. There sometimes seems to be a difference between private-sector thinking and public-sector thinking. I get the impression that the private sector would have a good idea about whether resources would be available. We seem to be hedging our bets a bit here. Whether that is politically driven, I am not sure; but setting that aside, I do not see why you cannot project that far. The word "if" is a key word in what you are saying.

Mr Daly:

I see where you are coming from. It is really a question of timing. If, instead of having a February monitoring round, we had a January monitoring round, then we would know. The February monitoring round has not yet run its course, and we are trying to balance the process of February monitoring, the returns for which are due in tomorrow. Those returns then have to go through a process involving DFP and other Departments to scrutinise the bids; the Minister will then put recommendations to the Executive, who then have to take a decision. That process takes a few weeks. In fact, I do not think that we will be talking to the Committee about those outcomes until the beginning of March.

That work must be balanced against the legislative process we have to go through in order to get the statutory authority through, which means that we could not delay this for another three weeks. If we wait until after the February monitoring round, it will be too late to get the statutory authority. This is about trying to build in a bit of insurance so that we do not constrain the Executive in taking the decisions that they would wish to take. As Ms Lennon said, this has been used in the past, but the numbers this year are bigger than normal, which is why we have gone to great efforts with Departments to make sure that they cannot use it for other purposes.

Mr McNarry:

I suppose that we will just have to wait. To me, it seems to be a juggling act in anticipation of unknowns. I find it difficult to understand why people cannot predict unknowns that are a short period ahead. I always find that difficult with Government Departments.

Mr Weir:

If one could predict them, would they be unknowns? Would they be unknowns, if one knew about them?

Mr Hamilton:

We are getting into Rumsfeld territory.

Mr McNarry:

The fact is that it is about the awareness factor. I am aware of them —

Mr Weir:

But you do not know about them. [Laughter.]

Mr McNarry:

No — I am saying that they are going into the realms of predicting the unknowns because they will not tell us. If you know, and you are prepared to —

Mr Weir:

To be honest, I do not know what you do not know. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

This is getting clearer by the minute.

Mr McNarry:

Will you tell the Minister that even you do not know?

Mr Weir:

I do not know what I do not know — but I certainly do not know what you do not know. [Laughter.] I actually know what David does not know.

The Chairperson:

I will tell you what I do not know — I do not know where this is leading us. [Laughter.]

There is a normal tension between scrutiny, the Government and Departments. At times, we have concerns about the capacity of financial managers, and we are, with Executive Ministers, bearing down on that. However, at this time — in the last quarter of the financial year — it is very difficult to be definitive and to reconcile overlapping timetables. That requires a certain amount of co-operation and understanding.

Mr Daly:

On a final point; if, in our paper, we had restricted ourselves to three areas in which headroom could be built in, that would be pre-empting the decision of the Executive. Therefore, there is an unknown as to what room for manoeuvre will become available through the February monitoring round. The second unknown will be where the Executive want to apply those resources. This is about trying to make sure that we are not constrained.

The Chairperson:

Please do not tempt us into the discussion about knowns that are unknown and vice versa — [Laughter.]

Mr McNarry:

He has just made my case for me. [Laughter.]

Mr Daly:

I look forward to reading the Hansard report of this meeting.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

That is very sad.

The Chairperson:

Will you quantify the main changes between the opening baselines for 2008 and those in the Spring Supplementary Estimates?

Ms Lennon:

The table is fairly self-explanatory. If members had the Main Estimates in front of them, they would see the departmental expenditure limit, resource and capital that were voted in June 2008.

The columns under the heading "Changes Through In Year Monitoring" show the total resource and capital allocations for each Department in the three monitoring rounds, the reduced requirements declared and the technical adjustments made between Departments, and, perhaps, with GB Departments.

The next section in the table shows the headroom, the anticipated easements and technicals, which then brings us to the departmental expenditure limit resource and capital Budget position set out in the Spring Supplementary Estimates.

I emphasise that this is just the assigned departmental expenditure limit over which the Assembly has control. It does not include annually managed expenditure.

The Chairperson:

In the course of the past year’s monitoring rounds, there have been substantial reallocations. Will you explain how DFP ensures that the Executive’s Programme for Government priorities remain to the fore? Are there any impacts that should be drawn to the Committee’s attention?

Mr Daly:

All changes, particularly the technical ones, go to the Executive. DFP scrutinises all the changes, and papers are then sent to the Executive for approval of the changes and reclassifications. When it comes to the monitoring rounds, the key focus is on the additional allocations made to Departments — the headline figures.

A lot of the other changes, such as the technical adjustments referred to earlier, tend to be routine and involve transfers that are linked to services during the year; for example, the prison medical services transfers in and out as part of the central reform programme. Such transfers may be routine but, nevertheless, they require Executive approval unless they are de minimis.

The Chairperson:

Does DFP challenge whether bids, reallocations or transfer of resources represent value for money?

Mr Daly:

Those, other than de minimis switches, will be subject to challenge by Supply in DFP. Some may be approved by Supply; others must go to the Executive.

The Chairperson:

Is the quantum of resources that were reallocated available? Where can I find that information?

Ms Lennon:

Do you mean the total increase?

The Chairperson:

Do I need to go through the monitoring round allocations and make my own calculations?

Ms Lennon:

You will find that information in the Bill. Schedule 1 provides the total cash increase or decrease for each Department since the Main Estimates and the Vote on Account last year. Schedule 2 shows the total resource that will now be voted. The increases or decreases are displayed in brackets underneath the figures.

Mr Daly:

It will be at a very high level. The second page in each Estimate within the Spring Supplementary Estimates contains a narrative that explains, to some extent, where the main movements have been. However, one may not see every bid that was met in a monitoring round, because in some cases the amount involved was small or was offset by other adjustments.

On the other hand, the DFP Estimate shows that Workplace 2010 receipts are not coming in — that information is there; it is explicit. Also, the DSD Estimate shows the fuel-credit figure, whereas, other small adjustments are just netted off. I have said before that entering every single change would make the Estimates huge. It is about trying to achieve a balance. Work still needs to be done to make it a bit more transparent and bring out the main changes, but it is about getting the balance right.

The Chairperson:

I don’t know whether anybody has the appetite for that. It would be a job for the accountants and auditors. The quantum is a good indicator of the degree of robustness of the original Estimates and the bids that come in from Departments; their ability to spend their resources and anticipate, or properly project, their needs in the coming year. That is of interest to the Committee.

Mr Daly:

Within those headline figures, there will be other adjustments. The DFP Estimate shows that in addition to the central reform money coming in, which has nothing to do with inability to spend but is money that is being transferred to fund a service, there is expenditure coming in that is connected with restructuring — for example, Land and Property Services. Those are examples of transfers that are technical, rather than Departments simply surrendering money because they cannot spend it, and are moving it elsewhere. It is about try to disaggregate those elements in order to get to the figure you are looking for, Chairperson.

Ms Lennon:

At departmental level, there are tables showing the changes that have taken place in each service delivery area. The introduction for each Department lists every single movement in resources.

The Chairperson:

Over the past year, the Committee has taken an active role in scrutinising DFP’s bids and easements in the quarterly monitoring rounds and which are encapsulated in the Spring Supplementary Estimates. The Committee has been fully briefed by DFP during each of those quarterly monitoring rounds in the current financial year. Those briefings covered the strategic and cross-departmental position and DFP’s own position. That has been a key part of the consultation and our role.

Do members feel that they need a further briefing from officials next week, or do they wish to proceed with consideration of accelerated passage to the Bill? Are members content that appropriate consultation with the Committee has taken place on the public expenditure proposals contained in the Bill?

Mr O’Loan:

I see no need for any further briefing.

Dr Farry:

We are agreed, apart from David.

Mr McNarry:

Listen mate, I can do my own speaking. If you want to speak for me, you ask the Chairperson.

Mr Hamilton:

What was suggested there? I missed that.

The Chairperson:

I did not catch everything that was said either — but Declan suggested that we do not need a further briefing and that we can deal with the question of accelerated passage now. I do not see anyone demurring from that.

Members indicated assent.

Mr O’Loan:

I do have some concerns about the process. Normally, the Finance Committee would talk to the other Committees and collate their views. We have not done that, so I am not of the view that we have been adequately consulted. As long as that point is recorded, I am content.

The Chairperson:

The appropriate way to deal with this — and I am sure the Committee Clerk will advise the Committee on this point — is for a vote to be taken, which will allow members to vote for, against or to abstain. Are you content with that, Mr O’Loan?

Mr O’Loan:

Yes.

The Committee Clerk:

Just to clarify; voting is by means of a show of hands. However, members who want to register an abstention should raise their hands at the appropriate moment otherwise their abstention will not be recorded in the minutes.

Question, That the Committee of Finance and Personnel is satisfied that there has been appropriate consultation with it on the public expenditure proposals contained in the Budget Bill 2009 and is content to agree to accelerated passage of the Budget Bill in accordance with Standing Order 42(2), put.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8; Noes 1; Abstentions; 1.

AYES

Dr Farry; Mr Hamilton; Mr F McCann; Ms J McCann; Mr McQuillan; Mr Paisley Jnr; Ms Purvis; Mr Weir

NOES

Mr O 'Loan

ABSTENTIONS

Mr McNarry

Question accordingly agreed to.

The Chairperson:

I thank members, and, on behalf of the Committee, I thank the officials for taking us through this detailed discussion.

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