Belfast Telegraph

Julian Smith suggests Northern Ireland public foot bill for Stormont deal amid claims £6bn promised

Secretary of State Julian Smith addressing the House of Commons
Secretary of State Julian Smith addressing the House of Commons
Gareth Cross

Gareth Cross

Secretary of State Julian Smith has suggested the Northern Ireland public foots the bill for commitments made in the New Decade, New Approach agreement, rather than the Executive relying on handouts from London.

Mr Smith said he was "slightly disappointed" the parties had ruled out introducing water charges in Northern Ireland.

"The Executive needs to look at its own revenue raising measures as well as coming to the UK Exchequer for cash," he said.

He said that Northern Ireland received "20% more funding than any other part of the UK".

The Department of Finance here has released a briefing note to "sets out facts" of the proposed financial package.

It says the Executive's budget for 2019/20 is £530 million less than pre-austerity levels in 2010/11.

It comes as UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt accused the Northern Ireland Office of being "disingenuous" during the negotiations and said that there had been talk of the Executive receiving £6billion over three years as part of the deal.

Economist Esmond Birnie suggested around £5bn was needed to get Northern Ireland back up and running.

The Secretary of State made the comments while addressing MPs in the House of Commons after concluding a deal for the return of power sharing last week.

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said he believed the reduced funding package may have been "payback" from the UK Government.

"Payback from the Conservative Party to the DUP for the way they treated them when they had the balance of power at Westminster and also payback from the Treasury, who I think are sick of the kind of fill-your-boots attitude that some people here demonstrate when it comes to Treasury money outside of the bloc grant.

"I would also encourage the five parties of the Executive to stick together, to stay collegiate and to make a plan to go back and ask for more money, not with a begging bowl but to make the case that what we need to do is transformation as well as dealing with the short-term issues."

However, party colleague Doug Beattie said the finance minister should "do your job and get on with it".

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UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt speaking at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)

On Wednesday the UK Government announced it was committing an extra £1bn to Northern Ireland as a result of the deal. Its announcement also included an additional £1bn which would have always been sent to NI under financial rules.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy described the additional funding as "woefully inadequate" and said it would leave Northern Ireland's public services with a shortfall of £1bn next year.

The Secretary of State was repeatedly asked about funding for Stormont by MPs on Thursday.

He said that Northern Ireland would receive additional funding through the UK budget in March and after a Brexit deal is reached.

Mr Smith was congratulated on the return of power-sharing by former Prime Minister Theresa May and former Secretaries of State Karen Bradley, Owen Paterson and James Brokenshire.

Armagh-born Labour MP Conor McGinn asked Mr Smith how he intended to bridge the gap between "expectations and reality" following the deal.

"I have outlined the package, I have confirmed there will be a UK budget and I look forward to working with the finance minister as does the Treasury, as the finance minister delivers well-costed plans based on good value for money for UK taxpayers," Mr Smith responded.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that there was a "gap between the commitments and the financial package offered" and asked Mr Smith about funding for increasing student places at the University of Ulster's Magee campus in Londonderry.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said that allocating funding to increase student places would be a matter for the Executive.

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The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson addresses the House with Claire Hanna and Colum Eastwood behind him and Stephen Farry to his left

DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that his party was concerned that if the deal is to work then "the resources need to be there in order to assure sustainability".

He asked Mr Smith to confirm if the Executive would receive the last of the money from the confidence and supply agreement between the DUP and the previous Tory Government.

"On the issue of funding, I can confirm that the confidence and supply funding will be dealt with in the estimates process in the usual way," Mr Smith replied.

The Secretary of State rejected claims from Labour's Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Tony Lloyd that the Government was "penny-pinching" over Northern Ireland.

"This is the best financial deal of any Northern Ireland talks settlement - £2bn," Mr Smith responded.

"This is an injection for this talks process, £1bn of new money, £1bn of Barnett-based funding up front, a guarantee.

"We then have the annual budget in March, the UK budget, and we have a deal for Brexit. So, the key task for this executive now is to focus on its priorities."

Mr Smith said the parties have agreed to publish the "fuller details of an agreed programme for government" within two weeks of the restoration of the institutions.

"This Government stands ready over the coming months and years to work with the Executive, we really want to support it, but £2bn of money now is an extremely good start and I'm confident that is the basis for a strong future for Northern Ireland," he added.

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