Belfast Telegraph

Villiers fires warning across Stormont's bows over cuts

By Rebecca Black

Theresa Villiers has delivered a stark warning to Northern Ireland's warring politicians – you've had it easy over cuts.

In an address to a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party conference, the Secretary of State also said that she did not see how Stormont could afford a corporation tax cut as well as a separate welfare system from Britain.

The plain speaking from Ms Villiers comes after Sinn Fein refused to back welfare reform, which would see a cap placed on the amount of benefits that can be received.

Northern Ireland faces penalties for not endorsing the reforms passed by Westminster in February 2013.

Speaking at the Ulster Fry breakfast event as part of the conference in Birmingham, Ms Villiers said Stormont had escaped the worst of the cuts agenda thus far.

She said: "Northern Ireland continues to be generously supported by the UK Government.

"The block grant is some 25% higher than in England, the highest per head in the UK.

"Moreover, Barnett consequentials over the last four years mean that the Executive is now actually receiving more in block grant funding than was originally envisaged when they set their budget.

"Taking on board those consequential payments, the actual reduction in the block grant over this period has only been around 1% a year."

Prime Minister David Cameron said Sinn Fein and the other parties needed to act.

The Tory leader was explicit that extra resources were not available.

He said: "Northern Ireland is funded generously, they do have to make decisions." Mr Cameron said he didn't think it was responsible for Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams to suggest last week that his party would be willing to see the Executive fall rather than implement welfare reform.

"In the end, the parties of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, they own this and they have to reach agreement," he continued.

"Either they agree to some welfare reform and that would release money for other things, or they have to cut the cloth accordingly across the rest of the Northern Ireland budget."

Ms Villiers went on to say that Stormont needed to sort out its finances if it was to take control of corporation tax rates.

"Stormont needs to be in the best possible shape if it is to take on such a significant fiscal devolution."

Ms Villiers said a decision over devolving corporation tax to Stormont will be announced no later than this year's autumn statement.

On Sunday Ms Villiers announced a fresh round to all-party talks, involving the Irish Government. She said Northern Ireland's leaders "need to grip" the contentious issues.

"It's essential that the institutions crafted so painstakingly in 1998 function effectively and efficiently," she said.

"There can be no doubt that both welfare and the legacy issues of flags, parading and the past are now impacting on the ability of the Executive to do that.

"A situation where decision-making becomes deadlocked is not something we could simply sit back and allow to happen.

"Northern Ireland's leaders need to grip these issues and find a way forward if Stormont is to be able to deliver on the things that really matter to people in their daily lives," she said.

Meanwhile, the DUP remained defiant last night, holding firm to its demand for an inquiry into the north Belfast parading row before entering talks.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance urged the DUP to join the talks.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said Ms Villiers must first respond to unionist proposals on parading.

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