Revealed: Massive Covid spending splurge in Northern Ireland is equivalent to having a second health department

The amount of extra money flooding into NI during the Covid crisis has been laid bare, thanks to a newly released but little-noticed bundle of government files.

By Adam Kula
Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 9:45 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 10:00 am
SPENDING ON SERVICES IN NI FOR THE LAST FIVE YEARS IN BILLIONS OF POUNDS, STARTING FROM A BASELINE OF ABOUT £21BN, BEFORE INCHING UPWARDS – THEN EXPLODING
SPENDING ON SERVICES IN NI FOR THE LAST FIVE YEARS IN BILLIONS OF POUNDS, STARTING FROM A BASELINE OF ABOUT £21BN, BEFORE INCHING UPWARDS – THEN EXPLODING

Late last month Her Majesty’s Treasury published a huge trove of data about how much public cash has been spent in the various countries of the UK over the past several years.

Whilst it is widely known that government spending has shot up, what the data shows is exactly how sharp the spike has been, with a thumping £7.4 billion rise between 2018/19 (the last full year without Covid) and 2020/21 – a jump of about 34%.

To put that in some context, the entire annual health budget for Northern Ireland in 2020/21 was about £6.5bn.

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At the same time, it is highly likely that the amount of tax being collected has plunged.

The figures come as the Province’s politicians ponder how to react to the omicron variant, with the possibility of a renewed round of lockdown-type restrictions on the cards.

And although two leading economists are fairly sanguine about the numbers, ex-finance minister Sammy Wilson says they should give pause to those sitting on Northern Ireland’s Executive.

The News Letter looked into the matter after the Treasury issued a media statement last week touting “record spending” in NI by the London government.

Delving beyond the press release uncovered a wealth of new data, tracking spending levels over time.

It reveals that in 2016/17, the amount being spent on all services in Northern Ireland was £20.5bn.

As the years went by this crept up: £20.8bn ... £21.7bn ... then £22.7bn.

But in 2020/21 (the first full year of living with Covid) it took a giant leap, to £29.1bn.

Roughly £15bn of that total spending comes in the form of the Block Grant (that is, the amount of money the London government gives to NI to run its departments).

About another £14bn or so is spent by the Treasury on benefits and pension schemes in the Province.

Local councils, meanwhile, account for only a tiny fraction of the total spending in the Province (about £838m).

So what do all these numbers mean in real terms?

Well, in 2018/19, the last full year before coronavirus struck, the Treasury says the amount spent on public services per person each year was:

~ England: £9.3k

~ Scotland: £11.2k

~ Wales: £10.6k

~ N Ireland: £11.5k

And for 2020/21?

~ England: £13.2k (up 41.9%)

~ Scotland: £14.8k (up 32.1%)

~ Wales: £14.2k (up 34%)

~ N Ireland: £15.4k (up 33.9%)

More from this reporter:

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