Northern Ireland news

Stormont and British government yet to resolve dispute over cash pledges

The deal tabled by Julian Smith (right) and Simon Coveney (left) included cash pledges for the executive. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

NEGOTIATIONS are expected to continue between the Stormont executive and the British government over the cash pledges in last week's deal to restore devolution as it emerged that the shortfall in anticipated funds could be as much as £3 billion.

A meeting yesterday between Stormont ministers and Secretary of State Julian Smith failed to resolve the disagreement over the size of the financial package included in the New Decade New Approach agreement.

On Monday newly-appointed Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the money offered by the Treasury "falls well short" of what was expected.

People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll last night said the British government had "made fools" of Stormont's main parties, while Green leader Clare Bailey said she didn't trust the Tories to deliver on their promises.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the financial package that had been presented so far did not reflect the full range of commitments provided by the British government.

"This executive must be about transforming the lives of the people we all represent," he said.

Read More: How much will the 'New Decade, New Approach' pledges cost?

"Boris Johnson's government cannot sidestep their obligations – the parties have done our part, it's time for the governments to deliver on theirs."

While neither the Department of Finance or the Northern Ireland Office is disclosing the figures being discussed, sources were suggesting around £2 billion had been pledged – roughly half as result of so-called Barnet consequentials and half new money.

However, the same sources suggested the executive parties were anticipating up to £5 billion – a figure a senior economist reckons is necessary for investment in public services and to address the backlog of projects facing the restored devolved government.

Esmond Birnie, senior economist at Ulster University, said £1.1 million alone was required to clear waiting lists and implement the structural reforms recommended in the Bengoa report.

The funding required for infrastructure was more significant, he said, with £1.2 billion needed for roads and £2.5 billion necessary for improving water treatment and sewerage.

He said the annexe of the deal included pledges on health but that the infrastructure element was less clear cut.

 

"According to the annexe of the document, it reads like the UK has committed funding to tackle challenges in health, including pay parity, waiting lists and Bengoa."

"But I think it's a reasonable interpretation to say that there isn't new money over and above what the Conservative manifesto promised in terms of infrastructure investment across the UK."

Mr Birnie said the Treasury was "never going to give £5 billion" and that the British government was likely to shift responsibility for raising funds on the executive.

As Health minister Robin Swann yesterday moved to restore pay parity for health workers, Mr Murphy signalled that efforts would continue to secure what he termed the "necessary finances to run decent public services".

"If we are going to have a sustainable executive we need it politically sustainable but we also need it financially sustainable and that is the argument that we are bringing to the British government and to the Treasury," he said.

Mr Carroll said it seemed "glaringly obvious" that of the money being offered, no additional funding was coming from the British government and would be taken out of departmental budgets.

"The big parties have been made fools of by the British government - no new money was offered," he said.

Ms Bailey said: “Having said that, this is a deal published by the British government and all parties want to see delivery across a range of commitments.

"It would come as no shock if the British government attempted to row back from their funding commitments."

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