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SDLP ridiculed over Gerard Diver funding gaffe

By Noel McAdam

Published 28/04/2016

The SDLP’s Gerard Diver
The SDLP’s Gerard Diver
Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw

Alliance has accused the SDLP of "playing fantasy economics" after a gaffe in a radio interview placed a question mark over the nationalist party's manifesto spending plans.

The SDLP claimed a "minor slip" on Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan show had "ballooned" as the party tried to repair the damage to its proposals for financing its pledges.

Over recent weeks leader Colum Eastwood and other senior figures had repeatedly claimed they were the only party to have fully costed their proposals. But Gerard Diver, who is Mr Eastwood's running mate in one of the key battlegrounds, yesterday back-tracked on a statement about money Northern Ireland receives from Westminster as a result of what are called the 'Barnett consequentials'.

The Barnett formula is used to decide how much funding the UK regions are allocated and is partly based on population. If Westminster allocates public spending to something in England, the Barnett 'consequentials' are the funding packages that the devolved regions get.

In an interview on the BBC NI show yesterday, Foyle candidate Mr Diver initially said he "presumed" that £223m in Barnett consequentials from the London exchequer was an annual amount.

But he did not resile any further when Mr Nolan put to him that the 'consequential' cash is spread over a four-year period.

Mr Diver, co-opted into the last Assembly to replace veteran SDLP man Pat Ramsey, had said the cash would fund pledges on tuition fees, student numbers and a new Strong Start Fund for children.

He indicated the money would pour into the Executive's coffers every year but Mr Nolan referred to budget documents making it clear the funding was for a four-year period.

Mr Nolan said if it was left to the SDLP the country would soon be bankrupt and challenged the party's insistence that the document had been completely costed.

Mr Diver said: "My understanding is that in the last budget there was something like £233m to Northern Ireland as the Barnett consequential and as I understand it at the minute that has not been allocated or identified for any specific or particular purpose.

"Why would it not be put to address many of the very difficult issues that we're hoping to grapple with in Northern Ireland?"

He was then asked by Nolan: "Is that £223m a year or what's that?" Mr Diver replied: "That's the additional money that's been allocated in the budget under the Barnett consequential to take account of the population in Northern Ireland as it currently stands."

Asked again about what period of time he was talking about, Mr Nolan put it "per year, per two years, per four years, what is it?"

And Mr Diver replied: "I would presume that that's an annual amount."

He was not available for comment yesterday but a party spokesman said: "It was a minor slip. The actual detail just slipped his mind at that point."

Alliance candidate Paula Bradshaw, however, said the SDLP was "playing fantasy economics" and the interview had shown only its "headline" pledges had been costed.

"The SDLP has made a song and dance throughout this campaign of their claim to have a costed manifesto," Mrs Bradshaw, who is standing in South Belfast, argued.

"In addition, senior SDLP representatives, including the leadership, have stated on social media the manifesto was costed at £217m.

"That has now been exposed as a total fallacy to the electorate."

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