Opinion

Tories only concerned with saving their own skin

The Irish News view: Little cheer for Northern Ireland in Jeremy Hunt's Autumn Statement

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt delivers his autumn statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday
Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt delivers his autumn statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt delivers his autumn statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday

Perhaps the best thing to be said about the Autumn Statement delivered by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt is that it could hasten the general election that will see this tired and emotionless Tory government booted out of power.

A cut in National Insurance was the most immediately eye-catching feature of what is essentially the last roll of the dice for a party so out of ideas that it has plunged to the depths of resuscitating David Cameron.

The National Insurance cut will save someone earning £35,000 around £450 a year. The minimum wage is going up, along with working age benefits and the state pension. But will anyone really notice, when we are being taxed so heavily in almost all other areas, with inflation remaining high and the cost-of-living crisis stalking families?

Put another way, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that living standards in 2024-25 will be 3.5% lower than pre-pandemic.

Nonetheless, the Tories will still try to tell us with a straight face that they have 'cut taxes', while attempting to dodge the inconvenient truth that the tax burden is at its highest since the Second World War. This government has been truly disastrous.

In Northern Ireland we are used to disastrous government, felt through its absence when Sinn Féin or the DUP do boycott Stormont and its dysfunction when they don't.

It means that our public services are under intense pressure, exacerbated by years of Tory austerity. Nor are we well served by the outdated and inadequate Barnett formula used to work out how much extra cash Northern Ireland should get when the government announces new money for projects in England.

Of the £185m 'Barnett consequentials' coming our way, £75m will go straight towards the £300m overspend accumulated by Stormont departments. The destiny of the other £110m has yet to be decided. Few will be thrilled by the prospect of yet more money – £3m – going towards tackling the paramilitaries who should have been gone long ago.

Neil Gibson, the permanent secretary at the Department of Finance, points out that Mr Hunt's Autumn Statement does nothing to address the "very significant financial pressures", amounting to around £1bn, which face the north's public services.

Not that Mr Hunt and his dismal colleagues will be concerned. With talk that an election could be called within months, the Tories are worried only about saving their own skin.