Northern Ireland’s financial position ‘largely unchanged’ after autumn statement

Northern Ireland is largely in the same financial position as it was before this year’s autumn statement, a senior civil servant has said.

The statement at Westminster included an allocation of £75 million for Northern Ireland but that will be used to reduce Stormont’s overspend.

A decision on how to spend a further £110 million is due to be made early next year.

Stormont has been given two years to pay off an almost £300 million overspend.

Government departments in Northern Ireland are currently being led by senior civil servants with limited powers in the absence of ministers while Stormont remains effectively collapsed.

Savage Tory cuts continue to damage our economy

Conor Murphy

Neil Gibson, permanent secretary at the Department of Finance, said the autumn statement was essentially a confirmation that there is no more money coming to the region.

“What we saw in the statement confirmed what we already knew, which was essentially that Northern Ireland doesn’t have any more money coming to it, in order to meet its very significant financial pressures on public sector finances, and therefore we’re rather much in the same position as we were before the statement was announced,” he said.

“The Barnett consequentials – the money that would normally come to Northern Ireland in order to meet our pressures, for a local executive to make decisions on how to allocate – is going to be used, as has already been announced, to meet our overspend that we incurred last year.”

Mr Gibson said there is close to £1 billion of financial pressures this year, including for public sector pay and frontline services.

“A billion pound of pressures is enough to keep a permanent secretary awake at night but it’s actually the longer-term pressure that remains perhaps our biggest concern as we think about the long-term financial sustainability here and what way we can bring those expenditure demands more in line with the income that we have available,” he added.

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy described the autumn statement as “unacceptable”.

“Once again, the Tories have continued with their cruel agenda of austerity with more real-term cuts to funding for public services and less money for pay,” he said.

“Savage Tory cuts continue to damage our economy.

“It’s unacceptable that our public services will not receive proper funding to tackle the ongoing crises in health, education and cost of living or fair pay for workers as a result of one party’s continued blockade of the Assembly.

“In the absence of an Executive, the British Government should deliver a fair deal for workers with no more delays.

“We urgently need a properly funded Executive restored now and parties working together to negotiate new financial arrangements for the north.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson also expressed concern.

“The budget imposed by the Secretary of State means that Northern Ireland will not get the full Barnett consequential of £185m but rather additional money from the autumn statement will be used to pay down the £297m overspend from last year,” he said.

“Indeed when considered against the half a billion overspend projected for this year, it is deeply worrying as to when Northern Ireland will ever receive a full Barnett consequential again.

“This vicious circle of overspending can only be broken through a fundamental reform of how public services in Northern Ireland are funded.

“Currently they are funded below the Government’s own definition of objective need and the situation is set to worsen in future years.

“This must be changed. There is a solution on the shelf which was used in Wales, it must now be used for Northern Ireland.”

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said the UK government funding of “£15 billion per year for Northern Ireland public services is at a record level”.

“We have also provided around £7bn in additional funding to NI since 2014 on top of the Barnett-based block grant and the NI Budget per person is around 20% higher than the equivalent UKG spending in the rest of the UK,” he said.

“And we will work with the Northern Ireland Executive once powersharing is restored to determine how to best support Northern Ireland going forward.

“Today’s autumn statement provides welcome support for Northern Ireland people on the cost of living, measures for businesses to promote growth, and exciting plans to foster further innovation.

“The National Insurance cut combined with the increase in the National Living Wage will mean a pay boost for nearly one million people in Northern Ireland, while tax measures such as full expensing will benefit local businesses.

“There’s also exciting news that the Belfast region has secured £3.8 million wireless innovation funding to become one of the UK’s 10 5G Innovation Regions.

“It remains the Secretary of State’s priority to see the return of locally elected, accountable and effective devolved government, which is the best way for Northern Ireland to be governed.”


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