Brexit millions not spent on intended purpose
Millions of pounds handed to Northern Ireland in 2017/18 to help with preparations for Brexit was not all spent on its intended purpose, an Assembly member has revealed.
The reallocation of the £2.4m was revealed in a letter to Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt from David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service.
Mr Nesbitt said the decision not to spend the money on preparations for Brexit was "bizarre".
"While I think that the public already recognises that we are not very prepared for Brexit, I am somewhat surprised by this response from David Sterling," the former party leader said. "The fact that Northern Ireland is currently in a state of political paralysis during the biggest period of political flux since the Second World War is bad enough.
"We must be able to have confidence that money coming to Northern Ireland through Barnett Consequential as a result of EU Exit related allocations is being spent to ensure that the region of the UK which stands to be effected most is at least on some level prepared for our exit in March 2019."
In his letter to Mr Nesbitt, Mr Sterling stated that the extra cash was received very late and was "factored into the overall level resources available and as such was not used specifically for the purpose of EU exit preparations". The funding came to Northern Ireland after Westminster allocated extra money for Brexit preparations in England.
As a consequence, extra money was automatically allocated to the devolved regions through a public finance mechanism called the Barnett formula.
In Northern Ireland's case, this 'Barnett Consequential' funding amounted to £2.4m.
But crucially, the money was not ring-fenced for Brexit preparations, meaning it could be used elsewhere.
However, a spokesman for the Executive Office said last night it was wrong to suggest there was no spending on Brexit preparations in 2017-18.
"Departments undertook significant activities in 2017-18 planning and preparing for EU Exit, co-ordinated through the EU Future Relations Programme," the Executive Office spokesman said.
"It is not accurate to suggest no funding was spent on EU Exit preparations.
"Whilst the funding received for EU Exit through the Barnett Formula in 2017-18 was not ring-fenced for this specific purpose (as is the case in 2018-19), Departments funded activities relating to EU Exit preparations from within their agreed budget allocations.
"Some £14.5m has been allocated to departments for EU Exit preparations in 2018-19."
According to an email received by Mr Nesbitt, the Department for the Economy is set to receive the biggest slice of the Brexit preparation funding (£5.3m) followed by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (£4.5m).