Coronavirus: Stormont departments could ‘run out of cash’ this summer

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Some Stormont departments could run out of cash in June and July, the finance minister has warned.

Conor Murphy said one department could run out by 19 June and five departments could run out by the end of July because of extra spending due to Covid-19.

The minister spoke on Tuesday during an assembly debate about financing departments.

The NI Executive has allocated an extra £1.2 billion as part of its response.

Mr Murphy said the cash crisis will occur unless a piece of budget legislation is approved by the assembly on Tuesday.

The move is expected to be endorsed by MLAs later.

Earlier, Mr Murphy said Northern Ireland faced a “very severe” recession following the coronavirus crisis.

He told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme that the post-pandemic landscape would feature “major challenges”.

Northern Ireland has taken its initial steps out of lockdown, with the reopening of garden centres, churches for private prayer and golf courses.

However, many businesses will not be able to reopen until later in the year.

“We recognise inevitably businesses will suffer and jobs may go, but we’re obviously trying to mitigate against that as best we possibly can,” Mr Murphy said.

“I think it is going to be very severe [a post-pandemic recession], and what we have to take into account is the impact of Brexit – that was something that was always going to be very economically challenging for us.

“We recognise there are a number of very serious challenges ahead, challenges that will last for some time, and what we want to do is try to support business to meet those challenges.”

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Conor Murphy said Northern Ireland faces major economic challenges

The executive has published a five-stage plan for recovery, but this does not give indicative dates of when each stage might come into effect.

“There are very real challenges ahead,” Mr Murphy said.

“The executive, when it reformed in January, was going to face a very challenging time politically, economically, in terms of support for public services because of the years of austerity budgets, but that’s all been greatly increased because of the situation we are facing at the moment.”

Analysis: Cheap borrowing presents potential opportunity

By John Campbell, BBC News NI Business and Economics Editor

The UK government role is going to be more activist in the coming years to try to restore the economy.

Potentially one of the things you do when it is very cheap to borrow money is that you borrow that money and invest it in capital projects.

So you go for those big infrastructure projects, the government primes the pump of the economy, it creates work, it creates economic activity, whereas we saw the response after the financial crisis with the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was to do the opposite, to cut back on capital spending to say that their priority was to reduce the debt.

But what we’ve heard from the chancellor thus far is that that is not the path that he is going to take this time, he is comfortable with running higher debts and deficits for a considerable period of time.

The reason I think they’d be comfortable to do that is because it is so incredibly cheap for governments to borrow money.

For example last week the UK government was able to borrow money at negative rates of interest.

Mr Murphy said he is “bringing a process” to the assembly on Tuesday to approve additional funding for some departments.

He added: “We have also asked departments to undertake a reprioritisation exercise to let us know monies that they aren’t spending so that we can collectively, as an executive, have a look at that and make sure the recovery plan we intend to put in place, that we will be discussing this week, will have resource to go along with it.”


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