Political news

British government announced £2bn for Stormont executive - but only half is extra cash

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neillhave written to Boris Johnson about the British government's financial commitments. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE British government last night announced that a funding package to support the new Stormont executive will total £2 billion - but only half is additional money.

The cash will also be accompanied by "stringent conditions" to ensure a "greater level of accountability for public spending" and ensure the restored administration is "building sustainable public services".

A new UK Government-Northern Ireland Executive joint board will be established, convened by Secretary of State Julian Smith, to oversee implementation.

An extra £1bn is in effect being added to Stormont's budget to help meet many costly commitments in last week's New Decade, New Approach deal, with the other £1bn already expected under the Barnett formula as a result of extra government spending across the UK.

There will be a "rapid injection of £550m to put the executive's finances on a sustainable footing", including £200m to resolve the nurses' pay dispute and deliver pay parity over the next two years.

Around £245m will "support the transformation of public services, including transformation across health, education and justice", with the release of this money "tied to the delivery of reform".

The British government will also ringfence £60m of capital and resource funding to deliver a medical school in Derry, with £45m provided by the Inclusive Future Fund announced in May 2019.

A total of £50m over two years will also be provided to support the roll-out of ultra-low emission public transport, and there will be £140m to address what was described only as "Northern Ireland's unique circumstances".

"The deal includes strict financial conditions such as the establishment of a new independent Fiscal Council. But it does not include any conditions about the raising of revenue by the Executive - that will be a matter for the Executive to decide on if it wants to release extra funds."

The £1bn Barnett money was described as including "significant new funding to turbocharge infrastructure investment" and would be "guaranteed will apply in all circumstances, and allow the executive to plan new investment over a five-year period".

The announcement came as it emerged the first and deputy first ministers had written to Boris Johnson about "the blockage" over funding for the New Decade, New Approach deal.

It has been claimed that up to £5bn is needed to cover proposed spending on health service waiting lists and reforms as well as road improvements, waste water infrastructure and other priorities.

Finance minister Conor Murphy said Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill had told the prime minister that his department was "costing the commitments" made in New Decade, New Approach.

"We intend on the back of that work to engage with Treasury, to engage with the prime minister's office and to engage with the Northern Ireland Office because that is where the blockage is in terms of that commitment," the Sinn Féin minister said.

Mr Murphy said earlier this week that figures provided verbally on funding had "fallen way short" of what was expected.

He also spoke of a bid to "rescue promised confidence and supply money", which is thought to refer to £150m pledged for rural broadband under the DUP's deal to prop up Theresa May's minority government.

"That arrangement between the DUP and the Conservative party collapsed before the money was spent and the British government is now refusing to guarantee the outstanding sums, including the money for broadband," the finance minister said.

There was no comment from the Treasury.

People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll described the uncertainty around the funds as a "farce".

"The truth is this that fearing a fresh assembly election, Sinn Féin and the DUP jumped to sign up to a deal with absolutely no extra funding secured from the British government," he said.

"They have been made fools of and will be forced to explain to the public why the commitments promised when the deal was signed cannot be delivered."

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