Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: NI now hopes Boris can splash the cash

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Editor's Viewpoint

The assertion by new Finance Minister Conor Murphy that an extra £2bn will not be enough to fund the ambitious but necessary programme of work facing the devolved government has been proven correct.

In this newspaper today distinguished economist Dr Esmond Birnie puts the required capital expenditure at an eyewatering £5bn. And then we would need a further £500m at least on an annual basis to meet recurrent costs.

Little wonder that the Prime Minister was coy when asked about what sums of money the Treasury would forward to cement the new administration and put the province on a more solvent footing.

Dr Birnie's calculations take into account things like tackling the health waiting lists, the cost of transforming the health service along the Bengoa proposals, sewage and water treatment improvements which are deemed vital to allow further development in Belfast and to a lesser extent Londonderry, settling the health workers and teachers pay disputes, and huge infrastructure projects.

Of course these will not all be solved in a single year but work has to begin on them as soon as possible.

Politicians here may believe that they are at the centre of Mr Johnson's universe and that they deserve rewards for their intransigence which has led to the province facing a huge bill just to get running properly again.

The financial plight of the various government departments is a direct result of three years of political abstinence. The job of keeping the lights on at our schools and hospitals continued in their absence but there were no ministers available to plead for extra funding on an annual basis and the deficit continued to pile up.

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While the Prime Minister has pledged that Westminster will be supportive of the new Assembly and Executive, that is a phrase which can mean anything he wants it to.

He knows that Wales, the north of England which has delivered his huge majority, and Scotland will be watching what happens on this side of the Irish Sea very carefully and will not be behind the door in seeking parity.

It will be interesting to see if whatever funding is delivered has strings attached and how much of the shortfall will actually come out of our pockets rather than from the Treasury.

Dr Birnie has delivered a huge wake up call to both the parties and the public and we need to take heed.

Belfast Telegraph

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