9% increase proposed for agriculture in NI Draft Budget

The Executive’s spend on Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland is pencilled to increase by 9.1% according to the region’s new Draft 2021-2022 Budget.

The 2021-2022 Draft Budget was unveiled by Finance Minister Conor Murphy last night following an Executive meeting.

Launching the consultation, which will run from January 18 until February 25, Minister Murphy said setting the budget had been “difficult” as many departments required an increased spend to maintain existing services.

The document shows that DAERA goes from a baseline of £498.7 million to £544.2 million in the proposed budget.

In 2020-21, EU income equated to £135.7 million. The equivalent EU income in 2019-20 was £466.5 million.

The reduction of £330.8 million is due to the fact that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments are now funded nationally.

As a result, the department’s 2021 baseline figure has been adjusted to account for farm payments, which total £293.3 million for the 2020 scheme year.

‘A challenge merely to deliver existing services’

“The Spending Review has not delivered the level of support required to kick start our economic recovery from Covid-19 and Brexit. It is difficult and effectively a standstill of our 2020-21 Budget position,” Minister Murphy said.

“With increased demands on public services and taking account of inflation, it will be a challenge merely to deliver existing services at their current levels.

I recognise for most departments the draft Budget outcome represents flat cash settlement which will mean effective reductions once increased costs and demands on services are taken into account. Choices will have to be made, public services will have to be prioritised.

Turning to the Draft Budget allocations, Minister Murphy continued: “While the vaccine offers us hope, Covid-19 will continue to present challenges in the weeks and months ahead which is why over £380 million is being provided for the health service response.

“We have prioritised the small amount of additional funding available to continue welfare reform mitigations, fund Agenda for Change pay, help pupils with Special Educational Needs and to support low-income families through holiday hunger payments.”

Encouraging people to respond, the Minister concluded: “Unfortunately, there is only a short consultation window.

“Nevertheless, I would encourage everyone to get involved and have their say on how we can best maintain key public services in a very challenging financial context.”