“In the Autumn, Northern Ireland must have a proper Budget in place…”

As the only adult (politician) left in the room, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, has intervened, for a second time, on NI Executive business and reallocated £131 million in funding to local departments [pdf file (216kb)].  From the BBC report

Health and education are the major beneficiaries of £131m in additional money for Northern Ireland.

The move was announced by Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, as part of a reallocation of funds known as a monitoring round.

Health is to receive most of the cash – £60m – with education getting £30m.

The remainder of the money will be divided between other departments, with civil servants in control of spending after the collapse of Stormont.

The cash had been in the pipeline for Northern Ireland, £42m of it flowing from the chancellor’s spring budget in March, under the Barnett formula.

Most of the remaining money was left over as an underspend from the 2016-17 Stormont budget.

And from the NI Scretary of State’s statement

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, said:

“People are understandably concerned about the impact on public services and on business because of the lack of an Executive.

“What I am announcing to Parliament today is by no means a solution for the long-term. It is an interim step to keep Northern Ireland’s finances functioning in the continued absence of devolved government.

“In the Autumn, Northern Ireland must have a proper Budget in place to put its finances on a secure footing. Although we are not at that critical point yet, this is approaching.

“I do not want to have to bring forward a formal Budget myself. I want that power to be exercised by those who should be exercising it: the Northern Ireland parties, who have been elected by the people of Northern Ireland to provide devolved government here. But should an Executive not be in place, however, the UK Government remains prepared to legislate to pass a formal budget, and to take any further steps as may be required to uphold political stability.

“It should be for a power-sharing Executive to make use of the considerable spending power available to it and to address some of the big challenges facing Northern Ireland in the months ahead – not least in making Northern Ireland’s voice heard clearly in the process of EU Exit.

“An agreement is still possible, but the parties themselves have this within their own hands. We will continue to work with them over the summer, with the goal of getting the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running again.

“Fundamentally, Northern Ireland’s future is best served by local decision-making based on partnership and agreement. People want firm answers on their jobs, their schools, their hospitals, their community resources. Continuing uncertainty is not fair on anyone.”

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  • Am Ghobsmacht

    What do we do with all of this money that is thrown at the place?!

  • doopa

    From above… £60m on Health. £30m on education.

    What do you think it goes to? I imagine the spread is similar to the rest of the UK: http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/breakdown

  • Brendan Heading

    I’m not sure I agree with your characterisation of Brokenshire as the only adult in the room. He seems to be determined to do nothing to try (one way or another) to progress matters.

    In legal terms, I’m left wondering how all this actually works, and the statement does not make it any clearer. Brokenshire has no formal legal authority to direct spending in Northern Ireland. I can’t see on what basis anything outlined by him in a statement can be taken by the head of the NICS as authorisation to allocate budgets. The spending is at the exclusive discretion of the NICS under Section 59. Or is there something I’ve missed ?

  • SDLP supporter

    It’s significant that James Brokenshire made himself available for interview tonight, which he rarely does.
    Brendan, you are probably technically right, but who is going to challenge his authority, particularly the doubly abstentionist Sinn Fein?

    My guess is that Brokenshire is trying to send a message that “it’s business as usual and you guys are not essential to the workings of government”.

    Oh, and isn’t the Dissolution Honours List coming up soon? Expect a few more DUP peerages to be handed out, which would be a nice little earner (£300 a day, tax free) if the Assembly goes down. Also, possibly Lord Tom Elliott. Also, if there is going to be Direct Rule, there are all those well-paid quango posts to be filled by DUP types at the discretion of the SOS.

  • Well, Brendan, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on the mis-charactisation of Brokenshire to date by other commentators. I stand by my description of him.

    As for your legal point. I don’t think it fully answers the question, but the official written statement to Parliament is where you should look – it’s the pdf file in the original post. Also available here

    Since the end of March it has fallen to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance to allocate funding to Northern Ireland departments under powers provided by section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

    This situation has led to understandable concern and uncertainty among businesses and those relying on public services alike. Since April I have therefore worked closely with the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), in conjunction with the NICS Board, to keep under review how to provide ongoing assurance around the Budget in the absence of an Executive.

    In the first instance this led, on 24 April, to my Written Statement to the House setting out an indicative Budget position and set of departmental allocations. This sought to enable Permanent Secretaries to plan and prepare to take more detailed decisions on cash allocations.

    And,

    As previously, the allocations in the table below do not reflect input from UK Government Ministers on priorities nor do they constrain the future ability of an incoming Executive to adjust its priorities. And it remains for NI civil servants to allocate cash under s59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. It is important to acknowledge, however, that as the year progresses the scope for significant changes will become more constrained.

    This statement does not replace the ultimate need for a formal Budget for Northern Ireland. The exercise of s59 powers cannot be sustained indefinitely.

    He goes on to say,

    And though the advice I have received from the Head of the NICS is that we have not yet reached that critical point, it is approaching. It should be for a new Executive to make swift decisions on its Budget to make use of the spending power available to it.

    At the same time we will not forget our ultimate responsibility as a Government to uphold political stability and good governance in Northern Ireland. Accordingly, I reaffirm that the UK Government remains prepared to take forward legislation at Westminster to give authority for the expenditure of Northern Ireland departments should an Executive not be restored in the autumn. If resolution continues to prove intractable beyond that point, we will take further steps to provide the necessary political decision-making in the best interests of everyone in Northern Ireland. [added emphasis]]

  • Surveyor

    The Tories are a lame duck government Pete. Brokenshire was treated with contempt before the General Election, now he’s just completely ignored.

  • mickfealty

    I worked my way through the briefing paper put in the HofC Library yesterday. Like everyone else they are doing their best to ignore the fact that the NI is actively self negating in the process, which is why I think a lot of nationalist and some unionist commentators are playing the SoS so egregiously whilst ignoring our far more profound domestic political failures. Do people genuinely expect the Pro Consul to come packing a magic wand?

  • Glenn

    They Tories would be even more Lame if Adams and co took their seats. But then again as John O’Dowd of Sinn Fein said and I paraphrase, what good is going to Westminster. Indeed what good are those 9 none representing expenses claiming representatives.

  • tim plum

    Secretary Brokenshire reiterated here in Washington, DC the other evening that he had brought forth the spending allocation straight from the civil servants working away in Stormont. It is good to see that he is following closely the needs over the bickering parties. Pete I like the characterization as the “As the only adult (politician) left in the room”