Belfast Telegraph

Chancellor's £400m boost intensifies demands for return of Assembly to make major funding decisions

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid delivers his Spending Review statement in the Commons yesterday
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid delivers his Spending Review statement in the Commons yesterday
Stephen Farry
Esmond Birnie
Sammy Wilson
Andrew Webb
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A £400m Government cash boost for Northern Ireland has led to fresh demands for the return of the Assembly at Stormont.

The funding was part of nearly £14bn announced by the Chancellor Savid Javid yesterday, who declared that it meant the end of austerity.

With the Assembly absent for nearly three years, one financial expert said this would mean "very uncomfortable" choices for local civil servants.

Esmond Birnie, senior economist with Ulster University, said the funding would be broadly in line with the last two years of the DUP's confidence and supply deal.

This saw the Government announce an extra £1bn for Northern Ireland in exchange for support on key votes.

"First of all we're assuming this money will survive a general election and if there's a new Government," he said.

"Putting that to one side, the question will be if civil servants will continue the same spending approach they've had since Stormont collapsed.

"That was basically to give priority to health, to a certain degree protect school spending, and then the other departments really had to make do with whatever was left over.

"Can you continue to make that approach when you have this £400m? I think civil servants will feel very uncomfortable about making these major decisions.

"It's unreasonable to expect someone who doesn't have democratic accountability to stick their neck out in that respect."

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said he was pleased the extra funding was possible despite the "destabilising" effect of the delay to leaving the EU and attempts to "talk down" the economy by Labour.

He also called on Secretary of State Julian Smith, in the absence of Stormont, to make sure civil servants "get on with the job of making decisions necessary to spend this money".

Mr Smith said the funding was the biggest increase in a decade for Northern Ireland and would have a "huge benefit" on public services, and renewed his calls to restore the Assembly.

Andrew Webb, chief economist with accounting firm Grant Thornton, said the funding felt "more like a pre-election throw of a dice" and there wasn't enough political direction to "provide comfort".

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said "these funds will only go so far in addressing the pressures".

Mr Farry said simply using the money to "plug gaps" would just buy time while much-needed reform was "kicked down the road".

NI Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly said the increase meant a 1.8% rise in real day-to-day spending but "will not fix fundamental problems".

"We need ministers at the helm to make the bold decisions to support the needs of both households and business," he said.

See Business, Page 31

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