Finance Minister Conor Murphy.
As 2021 comes to an end, Finance Minister, Conor Murphy reflects on his second year in office.
“We all hoped that as we approached 2022 we would be moving on from Covid and its detrimental impact on society, our health service and the economy. Unfortunately with the surge of the Omicron variant that hasn’t been possible.
“Our hospitality sector, which should’ve been experiencing their busiest time of the year at Christmas, instead faced cancellations as people understandably exercised caution. Land & Property Services within my Department again stepped up to support businesses with a £40 million package for 3,200 hospitality businesses.
“This is the latest in a series of grants my Department devised during 2021. 13,000 top up grants were delivered for businesses which were able to continue to trade but experienced reduced footfall, while nearly 900 manufacturers and over 600 larger businesses - vital providers of jobs received one-off grants. My Department also delivered another 12 months rates holiday, providing £224 million of support to retail, tourism, hospitality, leisure, childcare and manufacturing businesses across the North.
“Throughout this pandemic immense pressure has been placed on our health service. That is why I was pleased to announce a draft multi-year budget which prioritises health and social care. It provides additional resources to ensure the bids for waiting lists, Cancer and Mental Health rebuild strategies are met in full. £21 billion will be provided over the course of three years, a 10% increase in the health budget, providing a long-awaited opportunity for long-term planning, reforming service delivery, and tackling waiting lists on a sustainable basis.
“While Covid rightly dominated much of our work during 2021, the Department made substantial progress in many other areas.
“Significant improvements have been made to public procurement. From this June, tenders must include a minimum of 10% of total award criteria to social value and it will also be a condition of contract for all tenders to pay staff working on that contract the Living Wage. This will see social value placed at the very heart of public procurement, setting new standards that rewards companies for doing the right thing while ensuring the Executive uses its £3 billion annual spending power for the common good.
“In March I established Fiscal Council to improve transparency of public finances and a Fiscal Commission to examine devolution of tax powers. The Council has produced its first report outlining how public finances work here and the Commission will report before the end of the mandate providing a rigorous evidence base for an incoming Executive to consider additional powers. More tax powers have the potential to give us more control over our finances and improve investment in public services.
“The first projects under the Executive’s Complementary Fund were announced in November. This £52 million of funding will provide a capital injection right across the North, investing in local communities, supporting businesses and developing the local environment to provide much needed green space. Projects include a city park in Newry, a hydrogen innovation centre in Ballymena and a Digital Transformation Fund to support businesses across all council areas.
“There is no doubt that the pandemic has changed how we deliver public services. During the year I announced the creation of 10 civil service regional hubs which will build on these new ways of working, enabling civil servants to work closer to home, reducing travel time and lowering carbon emissions. These hubs present a huge opportunity to make a positive impact on local economies, the environment as well as the health and wellbeing of our staff.
“Once again during 2021 my Department stepped up again to deliver for businesses, workers and their families. While the end of the mandate is fast approaching there is still much to do and I’m determined to continue delivering for those who we have been elected to serve.”