Poots to pit welfare reform against impending NHS spending ‘cuts’ in Northern Ireland?

So, relax. Despite some fevered rumours to the contrary Ed Poots is calling time on the current executive, yet. Despite, or perhaps because of, a wrap over the knuckles for a £13.1 million overspend in Health, he’s gone into overdrive to point out that a £20 million rise in the Health budget is in fact a real terms cut.

As the BelTel notes

Edwin Poots insisted the health service would not be able to function properly if a £140 million shortfall he claimed his department was facing was not at least partially met.

In a radical move, the Democratic Unionist minister warned he will not approve a significant number of potential cuts earmarked by officials, opening up the possibility of an overspend he estimated at “many tens of millions”.

Mr Poots said he would instead outline the proposed cuts to the Stormont Executive as a whole, leaving fellow ministers to vote on whether they should be implemented.

He said if cutbacks were then approved it would be a “Northern Ireland Executive position”, not his.

Pushing the health back onto the executive is a politically interesting move. Effectively it’s tipping a shortfall in health spending (presumably with outline cuts in frontline services) and inviting the Executive to measure it against Sinn Fein and the SDLP’s position that retaining the current benefit structure is more important.

This could turn into an interesting battle over a completely non tribal issue (for once). Another madcap round of political chicken anyone?

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