The golden rule in Northern Irish politics is, ‘tell ’em nahm”, especially if it has anything to do with money. The SDLP were determined to try and plot a different route, and in the process gave us the most amusing/excruciating moment of the campaign so far.
It’s about 19 minutes in and well worth listening to very carefully. It’s clear that Diver mistakes the party costings as covering one year when in fact it covers four. And since the party had not previously released the figures, Nolan rushed into the gap.
And it is in that gap that a whole bunch of speculation has grown suggesting that the whole manifesto is based on wildly false figures.
Here’s the exchange from the BBC...
“My understanding is that in the last budget there was something like £233m to Northern Ireland as the Barnett consequential and as I understand it that the minute that has not been allocated or identified for any specific or particular purpose,” Mr Diver said.
“Why would it not be put to address many of the very difficult issues that we’re hoping to grapple with in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Diver was then asked by the host of the programme Stephen Nolan: “Is that £223m a year or what’s that?”
Mr Diver replied: “That’s the additional money that’s been allocated in the budget under the Barnett consequential to take account of the population in Northern Ireland as it currently stands.”
He was asked again over what period of time the money was – “per year, per two years, per four years, what is it?”
Mr Diver replied: “I would presume that that’s an annual amount.” [Emphasis added]
On the hoof presumption with figures is a rookie mistake. And the controversy revolves around Diver’s misassumption that it was a yearly figure rather over four. When Slugger contacted the SDLP this afternoon, they clarified their manifesto’s funded position thus:
The Barnett consequential is £223m over four years but most of it is from next year for the next three years.
1. Strong Start Fund will provide £250 per child at birth. That will cost £5.59m per year or £16.7m over three years. The figure is based on the median cost based on birth rate over last ten years.
2. Our plans to reverse the cuts in student places by 1720, increase places by 1000 including at Ulster University and reduce fees by £500 will cost £122.9m in total over three years. The additional places will cost £71.3m and reducing fees will cost £51.6m. (The tuition fee has gone up way ahead of inflation since 2011).
3. We will invest an extra £5 million per year for three years meaning a total of £15m.
4. The cost of expansions of pre-school childcare from 12.5 hours to 20 hours is £21.8m per year so £65.4 over three years.
In total that equals £220.07m.