As 2021 draws to a close, Finance Minister Conor Murphy looks back on his second year in office.
“We were all hoping that as we approach 2022, we would move away from Covid and its detrimental impact on society, our health services and the economy. Unfortunately, with the rise of the Omicron variant, this was not possible.
“Our hospitality industry, which should have experienced its busiest time of year at Christmas, has instead faced cancellations, with people naturally being cautious. The land and property services in my department have again stepped up to support businesses with a £ 40million package for 3,200 hotel companies.
“This is the latest in a series of grants my ministry designed in 2021. 13,000 top-up grants were awarded to companies that were able to continue to trade but experienced a decline in attendance, while nearly from 900 manufacturers and over 600 large companies – providers of vital jobs received one-time grants. My department has also donated an additional 12 months of vacation, providing £ 224million in support to retail, tourism, hospitality, leisure, childcare and manufacturing businesses across the North.
“Throughout this pandemic, immense pressure has been placed on our health services. This is why I had the pleasure of announcing a multi-year budget project that prioritizes health and social services. It provides additional resources to ensure that offers for waiting lists, cancer reconstruction strategies and mental health are fully met. £ 21bn will be provided over three years, a 10% increase in the health budget, providing a long-awaited opportunity for long-term planning, reform of service delivery and tackling waiting lists for sustainable way.
“While Covid has rightly dominated much of our work in 2021, the Department has made substantial progress in many other areas.
“Significant improvements have been made to public procurement. From this month of June, bids must include a minimum of 10% of the total social value award criteria and this will also be a contract condition for all bids payable staff working on this contract the living wage. This will see social value placed at the very heart of public procurement, setting new standards that reward companies for doing the right thing while ensuring that the executive uses its £ 3bn annual purchasing power for the common good .
“In March, I created a Tax Council to improve the transparency of public finances and a Tax Commission to examine the devolution of tax powers. The Council has produced its first report describing the functioning of public finances here and the Commission will report before the end of its mandate by providing a rigorous evidence base for a new executive to consider additional powers. More fiscal powers could give us more control over our finances and improve investments in public services.
“The first plans for the Executive Supplementary Fund were announced in November. This £ 52million funding will provide a capital injection across the North, investing in local communities, supporting businesses and developing the local environment to provide much needed green space. The projects include a municipal park in Newry, a hydrogen innovation center in Ballymena and a digital transformation fund to support businesses in all municipal areas.
“There is no doubt that the pandemic has changed the way we deliver public services. During the year, I announced the creation of 10 regional public service hubs that will be based on these new ways of working, allowing officials to work closer to home, thereby reducing commuting times and carbon emissions. These hubs present a huge opportunity to have a positive impact on local economies, the environment as well as the health and well-being of our staff.
“Once again, in 2021, my department has stepped up even further to deliver businesses, workers and their families. As the end of our term draws near, there is still much to do and I am determined to continue serving those we have been elected to serve.
- Provided a £ 224million rate holiday for sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.
- Distributed over £ 13,000 5,000, £ 10,000 in top-up grants to small businesses
- Grant of £ 25,000 to 887 manufacturers and £ 50,000 to 612 large companies.
- Developed advice for public sector organizations to help the construction industry cope with rising material costs.
- 18% reduction in the regional tariff for companies.
- Freezing of the domestic regional rate.
- Launch of Reval2023 to update the values of rate invoices in light of covid.
- Creation of a Fiscal Council to improve the transparency of public finances and of a Fiscal Commission to examine the devolution of fiscal powers.
- Announcement of the top 10 civil service centers to reduce staff travel time, reduce carbon emissions and promote regional economic balance
- Allowed people to convert civil partnerships into marriage.
- 2021 census completed with a return rate of over 97%.
- Allocated £ 5.5million to fund dormant accounts at groups such as An Gaelaras in Derry and East Belfast Mission.
- £ 1 billion secured for the PEACE PLUS 2021-27 cross-border program.
- Introduction of a new policy on domestic and sexual abuse for the public service.
- Compulsory payment of the living wage for all public contracts from June 2022.
- Obtaining executive accreditation as a living wage employer.
- Launch of a consultation on the provision of toilets for change places and opening of a facility for change places on the Stormont estate.
- Set up a working group for the long-term development of Les Mournes.
- Announcement of £ 52million in funding for a project under the Executive Supplementary Fund including; Albert Basin Park in Newry and a hydrogen innovation center in Ballymena.
- Launch of a consultation on improving energy efficiency in new buildings.
- Opening of a £ 1million fund to remove dangerous ACM coatings.
- Awarded an additional £ 40,000 to the Somme Association.
- Announcement of a £ 1bn Belfast area deal, which will see projects including the next phase of The Gobbins, Gateway to the Mournes and Newry’s Southern Relief Road.
- Announcement of a £ 40million support program to help the hospitality industry through Omicron.
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