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Northern Ireland's divided society costs £834m a year: Ulster University report

By David Young

Published 11/03/2016

Northern Ireland spends up to £834m a year coping with a divided society, research has shown
Northern Ireland spends up to £834m a year coping with a divided society, research has shown

Northern Ireland spends up to £834m a year coping with a divided society, research has shown.

Policing and justice is responsible for over half the bill, but health, schooling and the provision of leisure services also account for a large amount.

On average, the cost of service delivery tends to be higher than the overall UK average.

The Ulster University report provided estimates of additional public service costs compared to other regions and used these to estimate the cost of division.

It calculated a range from £404m of additional public service costs per year at the lower end right up to £834m.

Costs were also higher because of a greater level of need, policy decisions including baulking at merging hospitals, a historical lack of local decision-making and inefficient delivery.

Policing costs here were significantly greater than normal, £312-£550m extra a year.

The report said: "It should not be concluded from this research that the additional costs identified represent potential savings which could be achieved.

"In some instances, that may be the case, but in other instances the costs are unavoidable or would require significant investment to ameliorate.

"On average, the cost of service delivery in Northern Ireland tends to be higher than the overall UK average.

"However, across most areas of spend, Northern Ireland costs typically fall within the range of costs identified in other UK regions, albeit at the upper end."

Alliance Party MLA Stephen Farry said action was needed to address the problems caused by our divided society.

"It is now clear that distortions up to £800m per year can be linked to factors including division in this society," Dr Farry added.

"While it may be difficult to unlock all of these distortions at once, it is nonetheless clear that a start can and should be made. However, the signs are not good that other parties will take this issue seriously."

The report was welcomed by DUP Finance and Personnel Minister Mervyn Storey, who said: "It's no surprise to anyone in Northern Ireland that the majority of the cost estimates contained in the report are attributed to the delivery of policing and justice here.

"However, the report makes it clear that these additional costs do not necessarily represent potential budget savings which could be realised by the Executive.

"In some instances, that may be the case, but in others the costs identified are unavoidable or would require significant investment to ameliorate."

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