Belfast Telegraph

Modest increase in block grant... but minister expects tough choices ahead

By Liam Clarke

The Finance Minister has predicted years of cuts, but a modest increase in our block grant to help deal with them, if the Tories win the General Election.

Simon Hamilton was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after studying George Osborne's Budget speech yesterday.

"It is a steady Budget, not a dramatic one," he said.

"There is a modest but positive £11m increase in our block grant for next year and it comes particularly on our resource budget which is under particular pressure. It doesn't relieve all the pressure but it will make it easier for the Executive to make spending decisions.

"The Chancellor intends using growth to reduce the deficit and it is good that he plans to post date policy to use growth to reduce the deficit. It is good that austerity will end a year earlier."

However, he warned: "In the intervening period there is going to be £30bn removed from public spending and £13m of it will be from welfare and that will also impact the block grant, ensuring we have difficult financial choices for years ahead.

"It underscores the need to restructure and reform the public sector."

He did not think that any alternative government would do much different, though Labour would make some changes in benefits.

Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State, unsurprisingly gave a more upbeat assessment, focusing on the £11m in so called 'Barnett consequentials' we will get each year and the 103,000 local people who will be lifted out of income tax if the Tories control the next government.

It reflected the hard sell by George Osborne, the Chancellor, when he said "you get an extra tenner on a tank with the Tories".

That was a reference to his vote-winning pledge to keep petrol prices down if he is in power in September.

That is another bonus for us which reduces the profitability of fuel smuggling and helps our hauliers compete with their counterparts across the border, as well as being popular with our 880,000 motorists.

Ms Villiers said: "The Northern Ireland economy is clearly benefiting from the Government's long term economic plan. Figures released today show that the unemployment rate fell by 1.5 percentage points over the year; the production sector has grown by 2.7% over the year; and an additional 12,200 jobs have been created in the private sector.

"The Government is committed to supporting hardworking people through an increase in the personal allowance to £11,000 by 2017-18 - which will help ensure work continues to pay."

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