An additional £34 million for Northern Ireland in the spring statement cannot be allocated in the absence of an Executive, the Stormont finance minister has warned.
Conor Murphy said it will sit with £300 million he cannot allocate in the absence of a fully functioning Executive to agree to it.
A planned three-year Stormont budget is unable to be passed following the resignation of Paul Givan as first minister earlier this year as part of the DUP’s action against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Murphy also criticized Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spring statement, saying it “does not go far enough” amid the cost-of-living crisis.
I have claimed it tinkers round the edges and will be disappointing for many families, businesses and farmers contending with spiraling fuel and energy costs.
“The 5p cut in the rate on petrol is not going to go very far when we have had price increases of 20 and 30p (per litre),” he said.
Mr Murphy also criticized the Chancellor for not going further on national insurance contributions by scrapping his planned increase, and also condemned the failure to reduce VAT on energy bills or uprate benefits.
“Overall there were opportunities to take significant steps and they have taken a very minimalist approach… we are in a real sense of crisis around cost of living and there are major steps that needed to be taken,” he said.
“We will continue to press across a number of areas as we have been doing, but unfortunately we haven’t seen anywhere near the movement we hoped and expected to see.”
Mr Murphy said Northern Ireland will receive £34 million in Barnett consequentials for 2022-23 as a result of the spring statement.
However he said he cannot allocate any money that had not already been previously agreed by the Stormont Executive.
Mr Murphy said he has asked the Treasury to ringfence money for cost-of-living issues to allow him to allocate funds, but has not received a response.
He said he has also asked departments to bring forward costed plans for interventions to support families.
“We have as yet had no response from Treasury as to whether that can happen or not happen. If it doesn’t happen then it simply sits with the £300 million that we have sitting there unable to be allocated, and that is a huge disservice to people who are really struggling and could do with support from us,” he said.
“Some of the big moves that should have been taken by Treasury have not happened anywhere near the level that they should have, but the Executive could be making his own contribution.
“I hope that £34 million will come across in such a way that I am able to make some use of it, but if it just goes in as a normal transfer, then it sits with the other £300 million unable to be used .
“That’s the legal advice that I have, and that’s why I specifically spoke to Treasury this week, reminding them of the position I am in, wanting to allocate money … but that inability to do so because the legal advice is very clear – an Executive is needed in place to allocate new funding.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.