On the face of it Northern Ireland being allocated an extra £75 million in last weeks Autumn Statement by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt sounds like good news. But when you hear that all this money will be swallowed up to reduce the overspend that Stormont have built up then the overall picture doesn’t seem so rosy.
Stormont Has A £300 Million Overspend Hanging Over It
There is another £110 million due to Northern Ireland which will be available early next year, but how this money will be spent is still open to discussion and debate. Stormont currently has a £300 million overspend hanging over it, which is supposed to be paid back within the next two years.
Senior civil servants are still running the show over here during the long absence of a fully functioning Executive. They may be doing a fine job but the fact of the matter is they only have limited powers and so have their hands tied in a lot of respects. This situation really needs to be resolved in the new year as soon as possible.
Essentially Northern Ireland Doesn’t Have Any More Money Coming To It
Speaking about these numbers in the Autumn Statement, Neil Gibson, permanent secretary at the Department of Finance, is quoted in an article on The Standard website as saying:
“What we saw in the statement confirmed what we already knew, which was essentially that Northern Ireland doesn’t have any more money coming to it, in order to meet its very significant financial pressures on public sector finances, and therefore we’re rather much in the same position as we were before the statement was announced,” he said.
“The Barnett consequentials – the money that would normally come to Northern Ireland in order to meet our pressures, for a local executive to make decisions on how to allocate – is going to be used, as has already been announced, to meet our overspend that we incurred last year.”
And he went on to say that:
“A billion pound of pressures is enough to keep a permanent secretary awake at night but it’s actually the longer-term pressure that remains perhaps our biggest concern as we think about the long-term financial sustainability here and what way we can bring those expenditure demands more in line with the income that we have available.”
This is all very bad news for every sector of our public services who are all crying out for more funding. Health, education and social care are all in a parlous state and reform on how these are funded is desperately required in order to make these services more effective.