Belfast Telegraph

'Local people' urged to take control of Budget pot for Northern Ireland

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The extra £660 million allocated to Northern Ireland in the Budget would be much better being spent by devolved ministers, the Secretary of State has said.

James Brokenshire urged the region's rowing politicians to resolve their differences so they could return to making "local decisions for local people".

The powersharing crisis has left civil servants in charge of Northern Ireland's public services for most of this year.

"At the moment, as we all know, Northern Ireland is being run by the Civil Service, they have been doing a tremendous job in maintaining public services and ensuring that things do continue," Mr Brokenshire said.

"What we want to see is an executive in place, an executive that is able to harness the benefits of the Budget that the Chancellor has announced today, to make those local decisions for local people.

"That's what we want to see.

"I think it is that focus we still need to being having very firmly in our minds as to getting the executive back up and running, so it is those local politicians who can look toward the 18/19 budget and beyond and really shape the future of Northern Ireland's economy, which is why we want the executive there, those locally elected politicians making those decisions and taking this forward."

The additional funding announced by the Chancellor, which the Government insists will see spending in Northern Ireland increase in real terms, will be spread across the next three years.

The majority of the money will be spent on capital projects.

In terms of Northern Ireland specific measures, the Budget also included a review on tourism VAT and short haul air passenger duty (APD).

The DUP urged a reduction in the VAT rate and the abolition of APD in its 2017 general election manifesto and the review of both policies had been promised by the Conservative Party as part of its confidence and supply deal with the unionist party at Westminster.

Chancellor Philip Hammond also announced negotiations would start on the terms of a "city deal" package for Northern Ireland.

The bespoke deals, which are already in operation in major urban centres in Great Britain, hand city councils greater powers to lead infrastructure developments, generate wealth and access finance.

Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir and DUP MP Sammy Wilson, both former Stormont finance ministers, delivered contrasting assessments of the the Budget.

Mr O Muilleoir said it would continue "relentless austerity and deepening inequality".

He said in terms of day-to-day resource spending the block grant would suffer a real term cut.

"So there is no good news in this Budget for our public services and for public sector workers who have already borne the brunt of years of Tory austerity cuts to the block grant," he said.

"There is no extra money for health. No extra money for education. No extra money for our frontline services staff.

"The reference to £650 million additional firepower for the north is a bad joke."

He added: "Once again, this Budget shows the folly of the DUP's decision to give a blank cheque to the Tories as part of their pact with Theresa May.

"The DUP committed to supporting all finance and Brexit legislation as part of that arrangement so now they will find themselves supporting further cuts to our block grant and further pressure piled on our public services."

Mr Wilson welcomed measures in the Budget.

"This Budget reinforces the relationship which we now have with the Government," he said.

"We are pleased that our influence has not just delivered for Northern Ireland but also good policies for the whole United Kingdom.

"Northern Ireland will experience a further increase in its block grant of £650 million over the next three years along with the additional billion pounds already delivered (through the confidence and supply deal).

"This will lift pressure on government departments and enable important investment to take place."

He added: "We are pleased that with our role in Westminster we have had an opportunity to help shape this Budget which helps take the UK forward addressing skills, productivity, fiscal improvement, helping young people, supporting the low paid and getting us ready for life outside the EU.

"We will continue over the next five years to play a positive role in working with the Government while Corbyn and his crew bluster and seek ways of bankrupting the country."

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