Departmental Finance Director's Responses to Committee Questions on Budget Scrutiny Template

AERA Committee questions are shown in bold below, with responses directly below each question.

 

Q1: What consideration did the department give to using ‘surrendered’ money to develop a farm support scheme? Or utilizing money for an ANC scheme?

In 2019-20, DAERA declared reduced requirements of £12m Resource as part of the January Monitoring Round, as set out in Table 1 below.  

Table 1 - Resource Reduced Requirements 

Description

Reason

£m

Brexit

Delay in EU Exit from 31 October 2019

2.9

TB Compensation

Deployment of staff to Brexit duties and an anticipated reduction in reactor animals

2.6

Additional Receipts

Timber sales, NIEA Regulatory Income and EU Recoveries

1.7

RDP

Drawdown of additional EU Funding freeing up national funding

1.5

CAP Disallowance

Revised projection of financial correction this year

1.5

Running Costs

Savings in operating expenditure

1.5

Flooding in the North West

Loughs Agency Programme Slippage

0.3

 

 

12.0

The nature of each of these reduced requirements is such that they do not become firmed up until the last Monitoring Round of the year.

In line with the in-year monitoring guidance from the Department of Finance, all reduced requirements over £1m must automatically be surrendered by departments at the earliest opportunity. 

The timeframe from when reduced requirements were identified and their declaration to the Department of Finance also meant that it was not possible to use them to develop a farm support scheme or an ANC scheme and ensure that the necessary governance arrangements were in place to launch and incur expenditure by the 2019-20 financial year end. 

 

Q2. Will funding support be given to the environmental NGO sector, from non ring fenced resource, or, will the Dept. seek additional funding under the umbrella of COVID-19 support to prop up struggling env. NGOs? 

The Department is working closely with the environmental NGO sector to better understand the impacts COVID-19 has had and to identify the type and amount of support they may need.  We have already created flexibility in the funding streams we have with existing environmental NGO partners and are exploring how monies available within DAERA’s existing budget may be used to help provide further support as part of the June Monitoring Round.  

Various other Government COVID-19 support mechanisms are also available to the sector and we understand many organisations have availed of these.  We are also engaging with other NI Departments and with other UK administrations to consider what other COVID-19 related monies may be available for the environmental NGO sector.

 

Q3. Given that the Dept. has identified just over £2m for spending on additional staff to progress climate legislation, does this mean that the Dept. is currently drawing up a Climate Change Act as agreed in NDNA? Or for current circumstances, does the Dept. expect this work will begin/continue once capacity returns when the COVID-19 peak passes?

The £2m bid was to cover a range of actions to fulfil NDNA commitments.  As around half of this bid was for additional staffing to take forward a range of climate change actions, including scoping legislation, the current COVID-19 crisis has resulted in delays to this work, for example, the postponement of the COP 26 Conference until 2021.  Therefore consideration is being given to the reallocation of resources to meet the current emergency as part of June Monitoring.

 

Q4. In what areas of your departmental budget have you identified a reduced budgetary pressure due to the Covid-19 crisis?

The impacts/potential impacts of COVID-19 are still evolving and we will assess the implications for DAERA’s budget, including reduced budgetary pressures as part of the June Monitoring 2020-21 process.

 

Q5. What plans have you to reallocate spending from areas of reduced pressure to the COVID-19 response?

As above, the impacts/potential impacts of COVID-19 are still evolving and we will assess the implications for DAERA’s budget, including the reallocation from areas of reduced pressure as part of the June Monitoring 2020-21 process.

 

Q6. What plans have you to reallocate spending from areas of reduced pressure to other areas within your department?

Reallocation will only be possible in the event that areas of reduced pressures are identified.  Options for reallocation of spending to other areas will be assessed as part of the June Monitoring 2020-21 process.

 

Q7. Given that the Dept. has identified just over £2m for spending on additional staff to progress climate legislation, does this mean that the Dept. is currently drawing up a Climate Change Act as agreed in NDNA? 

The £2m bid was to cover a range of actions to fulfil NDNA commitments.  As around half of this bid was for additional staffing to take forward a range of climate change actions, including scoping legislation, the current COVID-19 crisis has resulted in delays to this work.

 

Q8. In light of Covid 19 what capital projects could be fast tracked by DAERA to stimulate the construction sector post the current crisis?

DAERA will assess the potential to fast track capital construction projects as part of the June Monitoring Round.

 

Q9. We already receive weekly updates from DAERA on Covid 19.  Could the Department confirm how it will keep the Committee informed of its expenditure on the Covid 19 measures.

The Department is happy to provide information on how the Fishing Support scheme is progressing, spends etc through the existing weekly updates provided to the Committee.  It is anticipated that the first payments under the Fishing Support Scheme will be made during the week commencing 4 May, with the majority having been paid by the end of May.

 

Q10. Please see attached letter from the Department of Finance to the Committee for Finance.  In that letter, at Annex A is a table which shows £105m for Total Farming / Animal Welfare.  This is broken down across Dairy £40m, Poultry £15m etc.  A further £16m is required against Rural Affairs, Fisheries and Environment.  There is a total requirement of £124.2 m. The Committee requires further information on (i) what the Department is doing to acquire this funding (ii) how the totals for each category where arrived at (iii) what types of measures would such money be spent on.

The bid of £124.2m has been revised to £124.0m to take account of a new bid of £1.3m for AFBI to assist the Department of Health with testing for COVID-19 and the removal of the bid for £1.5m in respect of support for the Fishing Sector which has been allocated funding by the Executive.

Table 2: DAERA Funding for COVID-19 – Resource

Sector

2020-21
£m

Farming / Animal Welfare

105.0

Rural Affairs

1.0

Environment – Waste

16.7

AFBI COVID-19 Testing

1.3

 

Total

 

124.0

Bid met:

 

Fishing

1.5

(i) At official level, DAERA has been engaging extensively with the Department of Finance and providing details of emerging pressures. The Minister has also been highlighting the case for DAERA bids at Executive meetings and bilaterals with the Minister of Finance.

(ii)&(iii) Details on how the totals for each category were arrived at and the types of measures that such money would be spent on are set out below.

Farming / Animal Welfare

The most impacted sectors were projected to be Dairy, Poultry, Pigs, Beef, Sheep, Horticulture and Eggs and it was assumed that around 20% of product would not be moving off farms from around three months from April because of restrictions in processing chains.  This was estimated to cost around £105m Resource DEL and would cover the cost of lost product and disposing of the product. 

Rural Affairs

On the Rural Affairs side a further £1m would:

  • continue and enhance the Assisted Rural Travel Scheme to support isolated rural dwellers access assistance and essential services;
  • assist the work of Rural Support in providing helpline and follow-up support services for rural dwellers and farmers during and after the COVID-19 outbreak; and
  • provide community grants to organisations assisting the over 50s and those in rural areas in need of assistance in dealing with the impacts of COVID-19.

Environment - Waste

A COVID-19 Waste Management Contingency Group has been established to provide a DAERA aligned policy and regulatory response to the current COVID-19 crisis for the waste sector in Northern Ireland.  It has the following key objectives:

  • To provide support to local councils to prevent public health issues arising from waste;
  • To provide timely and responsive regulatory direction to local councils and the waste sector to safeguard human health and protect the environment;
  • To provide guidance and information to the waste sector to assist with maintaining a post-crisis viable sector; and
  • To contribute to, and provide support to local councils, for the communicating of clear and consistent information to the public on dealing with household waste.

This bid covered costs including communications, dealing with fly-tipping and waste storage.  However, the largest element related to landfill costs.  In the event that Councils were unable to maintain uncontaminated waste streams, Councils would be forced to direct increased levels or, in a worst case scenario, all waste to landfill.  The bid represented the cost of 12 weeks recycling diverted to landfill at £120 per tonne.  This would be a substantial burden on Councils for which they are not resourced.  In addition, remedial work would need to be carried out on existing landfill sites to facilitate increased usage and those sites that have been mothballed would need work carried out on them to bring them back into use.

AFBI

The bid of £1.3m would allow AFBI to assist the health service in testing up to 1,000 samples a day from suspected COVID-19 cases for an initial 12 weeks.

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