Northern Ireland left out in the cold – thanks to the frozen Executive?

It may not be much but it’s a whole lot better than you’re getting in Northern Ireland. Gordon Brown’s winter fuel package will apply to England, Scotland and Wales – but not to our wee Province So, despite having the highest fuel bills in the UK it’s nada on :

Free cavity wall and loft insulation for pensioners and poor households
50% off cost of insulation for all households
Freeze on this year’s bills for poor consumers
Partial reversal of cut to warm front programme giving free central heating to poorest pensioners

What does apply to NI? Payments already announced :
Cold weather payments to go up from £8.50 a week to £25 a week for pensioners, disabled people and unemployed families with children under five – if temperatures drop below zero for seven consecutive days . And the winter fuel payments for the over 60s, up £50 to £250 a year.

Why was NI left out? It’s a murky story but it’s hinted that the Executive has an even better scheme sitting in a drawer and waiting for approval. Can this be true Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Margaret Ritchie? What is this £36 million warm homes scheme about and when will it be implemented? I hear a vague suggestion of next week but it’s far from certain. It all depends on whether the Executive can get its act together. We should be told.

And another thing. In GB under a carbon emissions reduction scheme ( Cert), GB customers benefit to the tune of £20 a year off their bills. The NI equivalent the energy efficiency levy, is worth just £7 to customers. I guess that NI is left out because it’s out on a limb from the national grid distribution system and utilities structure, but why couldn’t a different scheme be co-ordinated in the interests of the uniquely hard-pressed NI public? The regulator also needs to explain. This is a case of devolution letting the people down very badly.

What a grim comment this is on the vagaries of devolution, our paralysed Executive and the disastrous energy policy they inherited. At the very least, the massed ranks of the PR people in Stormont should be asked to write a press release explaining the position I’m stumbling about trying to get a handle on, how does NI compare with GB in this area and when/if it will get better? The public would be very, very interested.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London