“it’s up to the Executive whether to sell assets like Belfast harbour”

The Northern Ireland Executive met today [To decide what planet they’re living on? – Ed] to discuss the outcome of the 2010 Spending Review.  Apparently, they now want to meet with either the “Coalition Government” or the “London Government”.  In their statement they can’t decide which.

Perhaps the UK Government would do?  How about the Northern Ireland Secretary of State?  He is a member of that government, after all.

And as the NI Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, told the BBC

“This is a team game and today the executive has got to sit down and work within the budget, as has every council and department across the UK,” said Mr Paterson.

The Conservative minister said he was in favour of selling assets to raise money, but this was a decision for Stormont.

“The executive has some decisions to make today on the basis of a settlement which frankly is a lot, lot better than virtually every other department across the UK,” he said.

Mark Devenport records that he was even more specific than that

Mr Paterson pointed out this morning that Gordon Brown’s original pledge contained cash from several pots – not just grants from the treasury, but money loaned under [the] so called Reform and Reinvestment Initiative and cash from third parties. He also said that [whilst] it’s up to the Executive whether to sell assets like Belfast harbour he personally would favour such a course of action.

The Deputy First Minister retorted that it’s easy to urge the Executive to sell off the family silver, but this might not be a sensible course given the depressed state of the market.

That’s hardly the point, deputy First Minister.  The NI Executive [or just the NI Agriculture Minister? – Ed] went ahead with the sale of the site at Crossnacreevy in a similar situation.  And you could always indulge in some “blue-sky thinking”.

But Owen Paterson has a point.

From the Slugger archive, here’s the detail of the announcement by Gordon Brown of the St Andrews linked investment

3. The details of the package are as follows:

  • a four-year spending commitment rising in successive stages from £8 billion per year today to £9.2 billion per year in 2010-2011. This commitment totals £35 billion, including capital spending and is equivalent to over £50,000 per household; 
  • an updated strategic capital investment plan totalling £18 billion over the period 2005 to 2017 to underpin long term economic growth, and facilitate substantial capital spending on roads, health, schools, tertiary education and other priorities;
  • if devolution is restored the Government will work with the science councils to provide a long-term basis for research facilities in Northern Ireland.  An incoming Executive would therefore have the opportunity to promote world-class universities and research and development facilities in Northern Ireland with its own resources. To support R&D in business, the UK Government will work with the NIE to simplify the R&D tax credit rules and more actively promote take up of the R&D tax credit in Northern Ireland;
  • allowing the NIE flexibility to drawdown a further £0.4 billion under the End Year Flexibility (EYF) scheme over this period;
  • allowing the NIE to retain the receipts from planned public sector asset sales. These are estimated at over £1 billion between 2007-08 and 2010-11 to boost capital investment; [added emphasis]
  • allowing the NIE to retain all efficiency savings identified over the CSR period currently estimated as rising to at least £800 million by 2010-2011 to strengthen front line service delivery. Efficiency savings are from on-going Northern Ireland CSR zero based reviews, plus savings such as improved procurement and transformational change and the Review of Public Administration; and
  • the retention by the NIE of EU receipts for regeneration from the structural funds programme and under PEACE funds for community cooperation. This is additional to the above and estimated at some £0.5 billion in the period 2007-2013.

And as the Strategic Investment Board’s “Investment Strategy for NI 2008-2018” notes on the table on page 7 [pdf file]

(2) NI Executive Funds comprise Capital DEL, RRI borrowing, and receipts from value release from surplus assets. [added emphasis]

(3) Additional funds relates to anticipated contributory funding from third party sources (e.g. a planned contribution of £400m for Roads development from the Irish Government). These funds are indicative and are outside public expenditure.

Gordon Brown also mentioned “a retail consortium agreement”.  With John Lewis?

And how much has been retained by the NI Executive from those sales receipts to date?

The investment plan, of course, also anticipated the privatisation of NI Water…