RHI scandal: ‘Like welfare reform, treasury will make NI pay’

Sammy Wilson said it would be 'fairly difficult' to argue Westminster should pay
Sammy Wilson said it would be 'fairly difficult' to argue Westminster should pay

The DUP’s treasury spokesman has said it is unlikely the UK Government centrally will step in to pick up the tab for the huge overspend in Northern Ireland’s RHI scheme.

Sammy Wilson MP said that – as was the case with welfare reform – Westminster is likely to force the Province to find the money to deal with the problem itself.

In the case of the recent welfare reform crisis, Northern Ireland was ordered to shoulder the cost of its decision to continue running a more generous benefits system than on mainland UK.

The treasury started paying Northern Ireland only the amount which the less-generous benefits system would cost to run, forcing it to find cash itself to keep the more expensive old-style one going.

Northern Ireland’s RHI scheme was set up without the tighter cost controls of the scheme in Great Britain, and was far more generous.

Asked if he can see the treasury now using its own cash to plug the hole caused by the RHI, Mr Wilson said: “No. No I don’t.

“The treasury has always made this very clear, and I think it’s right that they do this, where they say: look, we will fund things ... provided you abide by the same kind of rules as we apply centrally.”

He said it was the same principle at work as with welfare reform, tax changes, and air passenger duty.

“They’ve said: ‘Yes, you can do it differently if you want. We’ll give you the power to do it differently. But you pay the consequences for it’.”

He added that “obviously, we’d like to make the case to them” for more support, but it would be a “fairly difficult” argument to win.

According to a detailed analysis by the BBC, Westminster was expected to cover up to £660m-worth of spending on the RHI scheme in Northern Ireland over 20 years.

However, the scheme has ballooned in cost to more than £1bn, and the Province may now have to find more than £400m from its own budget.