Stormont’s Finance Minister has said he “cannot and will not” accept a funding package announced by the UK Government.
In a statement on Wednesday evening, the Government revealed an extra £1 billion on top of the £1 billion which Northern Ireland would expect under the Barnett Formula.
The funding will be accompanied by “stringent conditions” to ensure a “greater level of accountability for public spending” and ensure the new Executive is building sustainable public services, according to the statement.
A new UK Government-Northern Ireland Executive joint board will be established, convened by the Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith to oversee implementation.
Conor Murphy described the proposed package as “woefully inadequate”, and said it will leave public services in Northern Ireland facing a “shortfall of at least £1 billion next year alone”.
He accused the Government of “bad faith”, adding: “As Finance Minister I cannot and will not accept this and will be taking this up with the British Government.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood was also critical, describing the package as “deficient”, claiming it will “create public finance difficulties for the new Stormont administration”.
Let’s remember MLAs have been off work 3yrs at a cost of £15m+ in salaries. There will be a new deal for NI as it leaves the EU. There is also a UK budget in spring. £2bn is biggest ever NI talks settlement & it addresses a number of key issues. Let’s get on with it…
— Julian Smith MP (@JulianSmithUK) January 15, 2020
Mr Smith responded on Twitter.
“Let’s remember MLAs have been off work 3yrs at a cost of £15m+ in salaries. There will be a new deal for NI as it leaves the EU. There is also a UK budget in spring. £2bn is biggest ever NI talks settlement & it addresses a number of key issues. Let’s get on with it,” he tweeted.
Earlier Mr Smith said the money will end the ongoing pay dispute by health workers as well as transform public services.
“New Decade, New Approach is about putting Northern Ireland’s Assembly on a sustainable footing,” he said.
“This funding provides certainty to the Executive and ensures much-needed reforms across health, education and justice can be delivered.”
Of the £2 billion, £1 billion was described as a Barnett Formula-based investment guarantee from the UK Government.
I welcome the £2bn investment in NI by @hmtreasury. I look forward to doing all I can to assist the executive meet its vision & deliver in the best interests of the people of NI. https://t.co/MYkL54uev7
— Julian Smith MP (@JulianSmithUK) January 15, 2020
Of the remaining total, there will be an injection of £550 million to the Northern Ireland Executive, which includes £200 million to resolve the nurses’ pay dispute immediately and deliver pay parity over the next two years.
£60 million of capital and resource funding will be ringfenced to deliver a Northern Ireland Graduate Entry Medical School in Londonderry, subject to Executive approval, with £45 million provided by the Inclusive Future Fund announced in May 2019.
£50 million over two years will be provided to support the rollout of ultra-low emission public transport and around £245 million will support the transformation of public services.
There is also £140 million to address what was termed as “Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances”.
On Wednesday afternoon it emerged Northern Ireland’s first and deputy first ministers wrote to Boris Johnson claiming the financial proposal around the deal to restore Stormont is not adequate.
Mr Murphy expressed his disappointment with the Government’s announcement.
“The parties restored the Executive in good faith on the basis of the two governments’ New Decade, New Approach document,” he said.
“The British Government undertook to provide the additional funding needed to deliver the ambitious commitments in the document.
“My officials are in the process of fully costing what is required but, against the request of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the British Government has gone ahead and made this announcement.
“The financial package claims to provide £2bn.
“£1bn of this was already coming to the Executive.
“A further £240m was already promised as part of the Confidence and Supply agreement.
“The bottom line is, with this proposed package, our public services face a shortfall of at least £1 billion next year alone.
“This will make it extremely difficult to fund public services.”
Mr Murphy added: “For the legacy institutions, the proposed package adds £100m to the £150m previously committed. This falls at least £50m short of the projected cost of £300-£400m
“The parties are working together to deliver quality public services for our people. This act of bad faith makes our job much more difficult.
“As Finance Minister I cannot and will not accept this and will be taking this up with the British Government.”
On Wednesday morning Mr Murphy visited the Casement Park sports ground in West Belfast which is awaiting a long-delayed overhaul.
Parts of Northern Ireland’s infrastructure and wider public services have suffered during the three-year devolution hiatus.
Final resolution of an unprecedented nurses strike which has paralysed parts of the health service was also earlier awaiting confirmation of new funding from the UK Government.
The deal which sealed the return of the Northern Ireland Executive includes an intention to complete planned stadia programmes.
The construction of a new stadium at Casement Park was badly delayed by safety concerns and objections from residents.
A renewed business case came into Stormont’s Communities Department in November.
It is intended to be a centrepiece for Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) games in Northern Ireland.
The project has an overspend of £33 million, a recent Audit Office report said.
Building has still not started three years after the expected completion date.