Durkan presents budget details and promises additional #33m spending

 

Plans for a student support package totalling £55 million sterling (#90.1 million) over three years are part of a revised budget for the North.

Presenting the budget to the Assembly yesterday, the Minister of Finance, Mr Mark Durkan said an additional £20 million sterling (#33 million) would go to fund student support, health and free travel for the elderly next year.

A draft version was presented to the Assembly in October. Mr Durkan said the update took into consideration several new sources of income.

There had also been consultation with the government departments, the Assembly, its committees and social partners, he said.

Mr Durkan conceded that while there was not "a huge difference between the revised budget and the draft budget", there was "some difference, and I would think it's a difference people would welcome in terms of addressing some of the concerns raised in the Assembly".

The Minister said £5 million more than had originally been planned would be released to the Department of Higher and Further Education over the coming year as it began to implement its review of student finance.

Dr Sean Farren, Minister of Higher and Further Education, will present his plans for student maintenance grants and the future of university tuition fees later this week.

Mr Durkan said the Executive planned to allocate £7 million sterling to the programme in 2002/03 and £8 million sterling the following year.

In addition to this, £15 million sterling would be added to the strategic Executive Programme Funds in 2002/03 and £20 million in 2003/04 to guarantee funding for "further aspects of the review", once the cabinet had approved it.

Mr Durkan said a new source of income had come with the British government undertaking to fund the cost of rate rebates for those on benefits.

This had brought in £17 million sterling, his department later said.

In the draft budget, the Executive had committed itself to introduce free travel for the elderly but local councils were to cover half this cost.

Mr Durkan said that, with the new resources at the Executive's disposal, it would now underwrite three-quarters of the scheme. The Department of Finance said this would cost the Executive £7 million sterling a year.

The Department of Health received an extra £7 million sterling with £5 million of this going to fund capital expenditure. The Department of Regional Development received £2 million more for roads maintenance.

Mr Durkan said an additional £2 million was going to the Department of Social Development to tackle public housing problems in north Belfast.