Belfast Telegraph

No further concessions on welfare, warns Nick Clegg

By Liam Clarke

Nick Clegg has personally warned the First and Deputy First Ministers that there will be no further concession from Westminster on welfare changes.

The Deputy Prime Minister has also spelt out the IT costs of maintain our own benefits system.

The warning came in a letter which Mr Clegg sent to Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson on August 22. It is one of the factors which led Mr Robinson to warn, in yesterday Belfast Telegraph, that failure to agree welfare reform could make "devolution too expensive" and make the Executive inoperable.

It is understood that Mr McGuinness made a personal appeal to the Liberal Democrat leader at a meeting of the British Irish Council in Guernsey in June.

He told the Deputy Prime Minister that since the British Government had got us into our present difficulties by introducing welfare reform, it would have to get us out of them.

Mr Clegg gives short shrift to this suggestion in the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Belfast Telegraph. Referring to the Guernsey meeting he writes: "I am afraid there is no possibility of further negotiations on additional changes to these reforms."

He outlines plans for Universal Credit, a new super benefit. In Britain it will replace six existing benefits including Jobseekers Allowance, Tax Credits, Income Support and Housing Benefit.

He states that if we do not adopt it then the cost of maintaining the benefits it replaces "need to become the sole responsibility of Northern Ireland".

He gives notice that London won't fund the computer system needed to administer them. He suggests the Social Security Agency might "come to an arrangement with DWP's IT suppliers to take responsibility for the current IT systems".

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