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Barnett Formula Funding

Volume 518: debated on Wednesday 10 November 2010

3. What recent discussions he has had with private sector companies in Northern Ireland on the effects on them of changes in Barnett formula funding for Northern Ireland consequent upon the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review. (22149)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with people from the private sector in Northern Ireland. I have found a widespread recognition that the public sector can and should respond by delivering better value, and support for the objective that we and the Executive share of rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy.

The Minister will be aware of the recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers stating that 36,000 jobs will be lost in Northern Ireland as a result of the Government’s policies—20,000 in the public sector and a further 16,000 in the private sector. What estimate has he made of the cost to the taxpayer of those 36,000 people currently in work being made unemployed by the Government’s policies?

The hon. Gentleman was not in the House at the time, but these are not the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties’ cuts. These are Labour’s cuts—[Interruption.] Northern Ireland has done better out of the spending review than it was led to believe would have been the case under the previous Government. It is in the interests of everybody in the House to talk up Northern Ireland, to attract inward investment and to rebalance the economy so that it is not so dependent on the public sector. That is the way forward for Northern Ireland, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will support us on that.

Does the Minister agree that to reform the Barnett formula, all the devolved nations would need to agree to a process, and that if one nation, such as the Scottish Government, refused to participate in that process, that would be showing disrespect to all the others?

Of course I am aware of the House of Lords Select Committee report on the Barnett formula, the Holtham Commission on Welsh funding and other commentators on the system of devolution funding. At present we are trying to get the public finances under control to get the economy moving again. Any change in the system of funding the devolved Administrations must wait for the stabilisation of the public finances.

One of the impacts on the private sector will be the huge reduction of 40% in capital spending over the next four years, and there is disagreement about whether the settlement honours the St Andrews agreement settlement on capital spending. In the one area where there is dispute, does the capital settlement for Northern Ireland include capital spending on the police? Is that part of the Minister’s assessment of the total capital budget for Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman knows that under the previous Government the reduction was likely to be 50% of capital expenditure. Under us it is 37% over four years. In response to his comments on policing and justice, I can tell him that we stand by the commitments. As he knows, the Northern Ireland Executive’s capital allocation of £3.3 billion over the spending review period will permit those costs to be met, but there will be difficult decisions, and unfortunately it is up to the hon. Gentleman, as the Finance Minister at Stormont, to make those difficult decisions. It is up to him and the Executive, and I support his attempts to get them to form a budget.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of Northern Ireland will welcome the cut in business taxes, which will create real private sector jobs, and the coalition Government’s action to deal with the £120 million a day in interest and debt that we are paying?

Yes, of course. Northern Ireland, like other parts of the United Kingdom, will benefit from those actions, which the incoming Government took very quickly. Beyond that, however, we are thinking about how, in the long term, we can stop the dependency on the public sector, which is disproportionate in Northern Ireland. In that context, one way forward will be to look at the whole issue of corporation tax.