Friday, March 1, 2024

Budget to provide extra £130m for public spending in N Ireland, says Government

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The Budget will provide an extra £130 million for public spending in Northern Ireland over the next two years, the Government has said.

Other initiatives unveiled by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt for the region will include the creation of an investment zone, an extra £3 million to tackle paramilitarism and an additional £40 million to fund further and higher education.

The Chancellor also confirmed that a freeze on duty on draught beer would apply to Northern Ireland following the agreement of the Windsor Framework with the EU.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury John Glen said this would benefit 700 pubs and bars in the region.

Ministers have said none of the funding announcements are conditional on the return of the Stormont Assembly, but have warned that all public services in Northern Ireland would face “considerable difficulties” without a functioning executive.

Delivering his Budget, Mr Hunt promised a major expansion in state-funded childcare in England and tax breaks for businesses in measures aimed at boosting economic growth.

However, a number of his key announcements will not automatically apply in Northern Ireland, as they are devolved under the control of the Stormont departments.

Instead, additional money is provided to Northern Ireland through the Barnett formula.

However, the powersharing institutions at Stormont collapsed last year as part of a DUP protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The party is currently considering the new framework agreement unveiled by the UK Government and the EU last month.

Spelling out what the Budget meant for Northern Ireland, Mr Glen pointed to the extra £130 million of Stormont spending, as well as the increased funding to tackle paramilitarism and boost further and higher education.

Asked if the investment zone for Northern Ireland was dependent on the return of the executive, he said: “There is no explicit conditionality but government is always challenged when we don’t have functioning democratic elected institutions, functioning as optimally as they can.

“What we are trying to do is give a clear statement of intent, what we want to achieve, but recognise the practical constraints that exist in Northern Ireland at the moment.”

Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker said: “It is imperative that devolved government is restored in Northern Ireland and an investment zone would be best delivered by locally accountable politicians in Northern Ireland.

“What we are doing is giving the DUP the maximum space to come to a decision which we hope will be to restore the executive, in which case it will get on with the investment zone.

“The reality is that all public services have considerable difficulties in Northern Ireland without an executive.

“The problems which Northern Ireland will face if the executive does not return will go far beyond the investment zone.

“I am acutely conscious of the state of health, there are infrastructure issues, a great many things need to be dealt with by devolved government.

“That is why we are on tenterhooks waiting for the DUP.”

Meanwhile, business groups in Northern Ireland have been reacting to the Budget.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said proposals to extend free childcare in England should be extended to Northern Ireland.

He said: “Whether it is passed by the House of Commons or a restored Assembly, this is vital to support workers’ families in the retail and other sectors of our local economy.

“The Barnett consequential from this childcare proposal must not end up in the bottomless black hole of Stormont.”

He added: “It is to be welcomed that the UK Government is keen to establish an investment zone in Northern Ireland and I hope that discussions can soon begin.”

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said there was not much in the Budget to benefit Northern Ireland.

He added: “We do welcome the fact that the draught beer duty reduction will be extended to Northern Ireland under the Windsor Framework in August, reducing up to 11p less than similar products in supermarkets.”

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