“there was good news and bad news…”

The still-Northern Ireland Finance Minister, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, won’t be making a formal statement to the Assembly until September, but he’s written to MLAs to inform them of the NI Executive’s decisions about this year’s additional cuts in departmental budgets.  From the Belfast Telegraph report

In a letter penned to MLAs he said: “The main issue facing the Executive in this round was how best to address the £127.8m reduction in funding arising as a consequence of the announcement made by the UK coalition Government on May 24, 2010, to reduce public spending by £6bn in this financial year.

“In addition to this there were also some significant pressures identified by departments.

“In view of the option available to defer some, or all, of the reduction to next year it was considered practical to first look at addressing key pressures before determining how to address the £127.8m required reduction.”

After the latest quarterly monitoring round, the “residual pressure” — the amount of the original £127.8m remaining — stands at £64.2m, and with just over £45m of this being put off until the next financial year.

That leaves the other departments facing pro rata cuts of around £19m.

Mr Wilson said the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government had given the Executive the option to postpone implementing the cuts until next year, but Stormont ministers believed it was best to begin tackling the burden as soon as possible.

“However, DHSSPS (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety) and DE (Department of Education) would be exempt from these reductions on the condition that the respective ministers engage with me to commission work, through PEDU (Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit), on the scope for, and delivery of, significant cost re-ductions,” his letter went on.

The Irish News adds, quoting the minister, that he’s informing members now because “it is inevitable that some details will become public before it is possible to make a statement.”  Indeed.

As the BBC report explains

The cuts will be met by in several ways. Firstly, there is £60m in unspent money which will no longer be redistributed.

Most of the rest will be divided proportionally among departments, except for health and education.

Their ministers have, between them, avoided their £45m share.

Instead, they have done a deal with finance to allow government’s Performance and Efficiency Delivery unit into their departments.

Our correspondent said that “on the plus side, there are still unspent funds to be redistributed from June, with agriculture getting £200m, education £13m and enterprise £28m”.

Which is nice, for the ministers concerned.

Although, the Irish News report also tells us that

A spokesman for the [Agriculture] department confirmed the huge sum [£200million] “replaces the money the sale of Crossnacreevy would have put into the Department of Finance and Personnel pot.

“This was recorded as an anticipated capital receipt for Dard, so the allocation is to Dard to remedy the deficit in income,” he said.

Which means that, having expected to receive a huge sum from the sale of the Crossnacreevy site the department went ahead and spent a huge sum – apparently on its farm nutrient management scheme.

When it came to the actual sale of the site, only a small sum was obtained – which created a rather large hole in the department’s budget.

Now filled.

And the NI Agriculture Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew, has announced that the Executive declined to approve a £1.1million hardship fund “for farmers who suffered loss of crops and sheep, as a consequence of this year’s severe weather”.

No further word, yet, on the £60million fines imposed due to the NI Agriculture Department’s mal-administration of EU farming subsidies.