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Budget ‘won’t make a dent’ in financial challenges, Stormont minister says

Budget ‘won’t make a dent’ in financial challenges, Stormont minister says

The Budget “won’t make a dent” in Northern Ireland’s financial challenges, Stormont’s Finance Minister has said.

The Budget will provide an extra £100 million for public spending in Northern Ireland in 2024-25, the Government has said.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also announced regeneration funds of £20 million each for Londonderry and Coleraine over 10 years.

The Government also allocated £2 million to be spent on global investment and trade opportunities for Northern Ireland.

National insurance rate for UK employees
(PA Graphics)

The Chancellor also announced a further cut in national insurance, reducing it from 10% to 8%.

Speaking in Belfast, Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald said the Budget was a “missed opportunity” for investment in public services.

She said it was “regrettable” that more had not been allocated to public spending, adding that the outlook for the devolved government remains extremely challenging.

Ms Archibald said: “At a time when our hospitals, schools, infrastructure and other public services need bolstered, the Chancellor has failed to provide adequate funding for devolved administrations.

“While the 2% cut in national insurance will provide some relief to households and families, freezing tax thresholds while also delivering tax cuts means the Government is effectively giving with one hand and taking with the other.”

Budget 2024
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

She welcomed the long-term plan for Coleraine and Londonderry but added: “The decision not to allocate additional capital funding is short-sighted.

“Investment in infrastructure stimulates economic growth. It creates jobs, including in construction. It boosts innovation and improves how our public services are delivered.

“As we focus on economic recovery, it won’t help create the circumstances and conditions needed.”

The Sinn Fein MLA also said she continues to engage with the UK Treasury over funding for Casement Park, but added: “We haven’t yet had clarity from the British Government in relation to the commitment they made to provide the funding.”

The UK Government has insisted the powersharing Executive must raise its own revenue to write off Stormont debt.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said the Budget underlined the Government’s commitment to Northern Ireland.

He said: “I welcome the additional Barnett funding of £100 million for 2024-25, which is on top of the significant £3.3 billion spending settlement.

“This will provide a further boost to the Executive’s spending power to invest in its own priorities.

“I am delighted with the Chancellor’s announcement of over £1 billion of new tax reliefs for creative industries across the UK, which is great news for Northern Ireland where creative industries have already contributed over £1 billion GVA to the NI economy, and this will further support Northern Ireland’s opportunities for growth, particularly in the creative and digital industries.

Budget 2024
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (James Manning/PA)

“The UK Government is also committing £2 million to boost global investment and trade, which builds on the successful Northern Ireland Investment Summit held in September 2023.

“This new funding will enhance Northern Ireland’s opportunities to showcase its innovation and technological strengths, taking advantage of the Windsor Framework.”

As part of the financial package from the Government to support the returning Stormont Executive, the Treasury said the authority should raise £113 million.

However, Stormont leaders have been critical of the demand.

Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker said: “We do expect revenue raising.

British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference
Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker (Niall Carson/PA)

“For far too long both public service reform and revenue raising have been neglected in Northern Ireland.

“We will obviously work through the details in collaboration with the Executive.

“But as a Government we are very clear that revenue raising is intertwined with what we’ve said about debt write-off.

“I want to be absolutely clear with the public and the Executive that Northern Ireland needs to be put on a sustainable financial footing and we need to have public service reform.”

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the Budget showed the Conservative Party continuing with its “austerity agenda”.

St Paul’s GAA club visit
Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly during a visit to St Paul’s GAA club in west Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

Speaking during a visit to a GAA club in Belfast, Ms O’Neill said: “There are some Barnett consequentials to come across, in terms of what has been set out today, there’s obviously a welcome drop in national insurance contributions, that will be helpful to workers and families.

“But by and large there’s no additional money for capital.”

Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said the region remained in a “fiscally constrained position” after the Budget.

She said: “I understand there’s probably about £99 million-worth of additional benefit for Northern Ireland.

“We have set out the big challenges we have in terms of our public sector transformation, the waiting lists, issues around special educational needs. Of course we will have fiscal responsibility as we address that, and we want to deliver.

“But to deliver on those things will require investment, it does require resources.

“So, while we welcome the money, we also emphasise that we will continue in a fiscally constrained position in Northern Ireland.

“That will require some difficult decisions to be made.”