Before asking us to cut our cloth, why doesn’t the British government give NI enough to cover the essentials? - Tom Kelly

Talk of additional revenue raising by Stormont needs to be accompanied by realism about the state of our public services, says Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is an Irish News columnist with a background in politics and public relations. He is also a former member of the Policing Board.

Michelle O’Neill, left, said Northern Ireland was underfunded compared to other parts of the UK
First Minister Michelle O’Neill, left to right, Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly have responded to the British government's demands that the executive introduces revenue raising measures by pointing out how the north has been persistently underfunded (David Young/PA)

The Labour Party has just won two stunning victories in seats previously held by Tories with considerable safe majorities. The top issues were the cost of living and the state of the NHS/access to public services.

Even after this electoral trudging, the Tory sewer-swimming solution for political survival is to buy off voters by cutting taxes rather than investing in failing infrastructure, healthcare and education services.

Successive Conservative governments have attempted to fulfil the Thatcher aspiration of abolishing any sense of society through the creation a “me féin” culture by demonising the poor, and scapegoating migrants.

Meanwhile, they enabled Tory benefactors, Brexit financial elites and nefarious chums to rob, pillage and financially benefit through public purse and policy. When this government finally comes to its inglorious end, the words ‘corrupt’ and ‘conservative’ may well become a new compound phrase.

That all of this was all done in full sight with a nod and a wink, or conjured up on the back of a beer mat in a local hostelry whilst quaffing organic gin and halloumi fries, is both shameless and shameful.

At least looters and ordinary decent criminals do their victims the courtesy of being hooded when carrying out a smash and grab.

Thankfully the voters of Northern Ireland give the British Conservative Party a wide berth when it comes to elections, though the prolific presence of their spokespeople on the Nolan Show may lead a casual observer to think otherwise.

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly meet with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chris Heaton-Harris at Stormont Castle on Monday.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris visited the new executive earlier this month. They now want it to set out its revenue raising plans... (Colm Lenaghan)

After two years of letting the north’s public finances and services car crash, the British government offered the newly resurrected executive £3.3bn.

This significant amount is welcome but overdue.

Much of this bonanza will be swallowed up by existing financial commitments, pay demands and departmental overruns. As with all matters concerning the UK treasury, this financial injection came like a scorpion with a sting in the tail - Northern Ireland must cut its cloth and do so by raising revenue.

This would be a laudable objective if Northern Ireland was a sleek, smoothly running, energy efficient, top of the range luxury Mercedes - but it isn’t.

It’s an East German Trabant, run on a two-stroke engine, polluting its passengers and once accurately described as if it was “designed by a two-year-old wielding a crayon”.

Rightly, the executive parties and the opposition called this out.

Northern Ireland isn’t given enough cloth to cover its essentials.

Revenue raising might be a laudable objective if Northern Ireland was a sleek, smoothly running, energy efficient, top of the range luxury Mercedes - but it isn’t. It’s an East German Trabant, run on a two-stroke engine, polluting its passengers...

And yet, there are clarion calls from some amongst the north’s suburban glitterati for an honest discussion about financing Northern Ireland.

No doubt this taxing matter is much discussed at candlelight suppers, or cafe society or whilst enjoying an après ski tartiflette by those who are in the lucky top 10% of Northern Ireland income earners with wages in excess of £60k per year.

But let’s get real - the British government is the sole shareholder in Northern Ireland and it has consistently underfunded the local economy and services. The crumbling Victorian sewerage system didn’t occur overnight.

NIW has been systemically starved of investment and the block grant has never been sufficient to cover what is needed for developing enviable infrastructure, reform of healthcare/social services and, as recently pointed out, creating a world class education system.

If anyone is serious about talking about revenue raising then let the honest talk start with a level economic playing field. Selling the north as a low wage economy has real-time consequences for the disposable incomes of its citizens.

NI is 5th lowest in median income within the UK but no-one in Westminster asks Teesside or Merseyside to start revenue raising. The vast majority of working families and pensioners have one main asset and that’s their home. Many will endure personal financial hardship to protect that asset for their children.

The devolved administration is like a grand county council housed in a palatial building- “Aw fur coat, an nae knickers” as Glaswegians say. They can’t fix everything, nor should they be expected to.