Money on the way, but who will control how it’s spent?

I have to confess I don’t know any of our higher ranking civil servants - those men and women behind the scenes who advise our politicians and others about how to spend our money.

Saturday, 9th March 2019, 3:10 pm

Occasionally, in my past life as a working journalist, there would have been occasions when I had to ring such people for information. Face to face interviews were rare but sometimes if the Secretary of State of the day was entertaining journalists a civil servant or two joined the event, more to keep the top man right and ensure he didn’t pass on any important information to us.

They weren’t unfriendly, just reserved and cautious, and I suspect these may be the people who, after this week’s promise that money is now to be allocated, will be in charge of that money and where it goes, since devolution collapsed leaving us rudderless and fearful about public services.

This week, in the space of a single day, our Secretary of State Karen Bradley (she who has been doing little and saying nothing about the chronic state of our finances and services), according to my colleague and political editor of the News Letter Sam McBride, ‘rushed through Parliament in a single day a crucial piece of budgetary legislation which authorised billions of pounds of public spending in Northern Ireland’.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Comment Sandra Says by Sandra Chapman

After two years of spending little or nothing it is explained that Ms Bradley did this ‘on the basis that it had only recently become clear – three weeks from the end of the financial year – that there would be no devolved Executive to do so, even though for months there have not even been talks to restore Stormont’.

Ms Bradley blathered on about ‘this being a very technical bill’ and she couldn’t even ask Stormont civil servants how they are going to spend the money. So, what can we take from this bombshell of information, news which has annoyed the DUP big-time?

Sinn Fein, who were instrumental in crashing the Assembly and who won’t countenance any return until we have an Irish language in place, if not the promise of a referendum on a united Ireland, hadn’t much to say in the first 24 hours. Were they shell-shocked too, because Direct Rule may not be all that far behind?

Let’s face it; Direct Rule would be better than anything we have at the minute and should have been installed long before we got to the position we’re in now, with schools and hospitals in crisis and GPs rationing appointments.

Recently it took me three months to renew my driving licence, as nobody in the department knew where my application was. It’s little things like that which leave us wondering what happens to all the money taken out of our pay-cheques and pensions, not to mention the VAT on everything we buy.

Our DUP politicians think it is wrong that the spending of all these Stormont billions will go on behind closed doors. MP Emma Little-Pengelly believes there is no scrutiny in the process, declaring, “I do not believe that such a process would take place anywhere in a democracy in the western world”.

That’s all fine, but as the infamous RHI scheme revealed during the public inquiry, our politicians, the DUP in particular, hadn’t much idea about how the money should be spent or was spent on that escapade. Their advisors’ research and advice fell short of what would have been expected of them.

Millions have since been spent on the public inquiry getting to the bottom of the whole sad saga. Their man on the ground, who has taken up the cause of those RHI boiler-owners left seriously out of pocket, Ian Paisley, (MP for North Antrim) was an odd choice. This is the very same Ian Paisley who faced questions over failing to declare a luxury holiday in the Maldives.

Our Secretary of State, when asked by Ms Little-Pengelly about direct rule, declared that ‘the solution to the scrutiny problem was to restore devolution’.

Of course it is, but given the intransigence of Sinn Fein this isn’t going to happen any time soon; meanwhile, there’s Brexit...