Owen Paterson: “I don’t know what planet they’re living on.”

That was Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson’s reported response to the reaction of our special little pleaders to the outcome of the UK Government’s 2010 Spending Review.  And he has a point.

The NI First Minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson, claimed the cuts were ‘worse than feared’ .

But his party colleague, and NI Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, has stated that

“Whilst the level of budget reductions we are facing is unwelcome, and will present a serious challenge, it comes as no great surprise.”

And, as the BBC report also notes

The first and deputy first ministers have accused the British government of breaking its promises over budget cuts in Northern Ireland.


Mr McGuinness said Mr Paterson had delivered “very unpleasant news”

“We’ve made it clear to the British government consistently that we expect the commitments that we made, the financial package agreed with the previous administration to be honoured and from what I’m hearing today, it does not look as if they intend to honour it.

“So we’re going to be involved in a bit of a battle with the British government on this issue over the coming period.”

Perhaps the NI deputy First Minister shouldn’t have been so quick to claim victory…

Meanwhile BBC political editor Mark Devenport tries to make sense of the figures

According to the Treasury website, we appeared to be doing better than other departments with a cut of only 6.9% in our current budget, the cash used to pay salaries and other recurring costs. [pdf file] This seemed to be the beneficial knock on impact of the ring fencing of health in England and the generous settlement for education.

But the website revealed that so far as capital spending is concerned (the money used to build roads, hospitals and other public projects) we were taking more of a hit, down 37%.

So that’s clear then? Well I thought so when the Department of Finance put out different figures, estimating the current revenue cut at 8% and the capital cut at just over 40%. The explanation for this discrepancy is that the Treasury and the Stormont Finance department started their calculations at a different stage – the London arithmetic applied to the figures after the recent emergency budget, the Belfast sums started prior to that reduction.

Then to confuse matters still more the local Finance Minister Sammy Wilson came up with a global figure of £4 billion – the amount he said we are losing cumulatively over the next four years. This surprised me, as we have all been talking about a £2 billion cut in the run up to this Spending Review. So have we got double the cuts expected?

Mr Wilson says no – instead the previous Department of Finance briefings were based on the notion that we would be down £2 billion in four years time, not the amount we would lose in total on the way.

If you understand that get back to me – it doesn’t seem to be borne out by the annual breakdown on the Treasury website.

It looks to me like OFMDFM and the NI Finance Minister are trying to make it look as bad as possible, whilst the NI Secretary of State is trying to do the opposite…

To be fair to Sammy Wilson, however, he’s also making sense.

“Over recent months I have been trying to prepare the people of Northern Ireland for such a settlement. I have also been working hard to prepare my Executive colleagues for the difficult decisions we now face. The fact is that we now know the actual outcome, we have a duty to take those difficult decisions. That is our responsibility, that is what we have been elected to do. [added emphasis]

“If we delay or fail to agree a Budget, the losers will be the communities we represent. Our schools, colleges, hospitals, health centres, indeed all publicly funded services need certainty in their budgets as soon as possible. By working together, we can mitigate against the worst effects of the spending cuts.

“The coming years will be challenging enough – let us show the leadership required to ensure they aren’t made more difficult than necessary.”

And the International Representative for west Belfast?  He’s protesting outside somebody else’s budgetary talks…  ‘Cause he didn’t get an invite…