DUP: Budget just shows clout we have with Number 10
The DUP has claimed credit for some of the measures revealed by the chancellor in his budget on Wednesday.
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, whose party’s alliance with the Tories allows Theresa May to maintain a majority in the Commons, said he was happy “our influence has not just delivered for Northern Ireland,” but had also led to a set of “good policies” for the entire UK.
However, political rivals criticised what they believe to be a lack of concrete action for the Province’s economy.
Mr Wilson praised an increase in the Northern Irish block grant of £650m over three years; a sum he said came “along with the additional £1bn already delivered”.
The total annual block grant to help with the Province’s day-to-day spending is roughly in the area of £10bn.
Mr Wilson said “the freezing of beer and fuel duty, additional investment in housing as a means of helping young people, increasing productivity, and lifting of the public sector wage cap are all matters which we encouraged the chancellor to address” – stating repeatedly that he is “pleased” to see DUP influence paying off.
Northern Ireland was mentioned in three separate sentences in the chancellor’s speech – specifically about the extra block grant cash, the plan to review VAT and air passenger duty, and the idea of creating a “Belfast city deal”.
Wales, meanwhile, was mentioned in two sentences, and so was Scotland.
In contrast to Mr Wilson’s upbeat view, Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir – who like Mr Wilson is an ex-finance minister – said the budget “shows the folly of the DUP’s decision to give a blank cheque to the Tories as part of their pact with Theresa May”.
He said the £650m block grant spending is to be spread over four years, and in reality spells a “real terms cut of between £100m and £200m in the money available for day-to-day spending”.
What the budget amounts to in short, he said, is “relentless austerity, deepening inequality and further cuts”.
The UUP’s Steve Aiken in turn hit out at Mr O Muilleior, saying that at least the chancellor had produced a budget – something the Sinn Fein MLA “hadn’t the fiscal knowledge or ability to do”.
He welcomed the additional £650m for the block grant, although he said that “further clarity is urgently needed on it in order for the real impact to be properly assessed”.
He also voiced frustration that the chancellor is only agreeing to “review” the impact which VAT and air passenger duty have on tourism in the Province, rather than actually doing something concrete now.
Mr Aiken also complained that the lack of any mention of devolving power over Corporation Tax means the whole notion now looks “dead in the water”.
Colum Eastwood, leader of the SDLP, confined his comments to the lack of a “city deal” for Londonderry.
Such deals are described by the government as giving enhanced “powers and freedom” to cities and regions to decide on things like public spending.
For example, Cardiff’s 2016 city deal committed the government to exploring whether to devolve certain powers around business rates to the city, among other things.
In the case of Belfast, its current Alliance Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister said a city deal would be a “10-year investment plan”, but offered little in terms of detail.
Mr Eastwood said the that fact the government is to start negotiations about creating one for Belfast shows that Londonderry is being treated as a “poor relation” and “second-class citizen” in comparison (although the chancellor said a Belfast deal would ultimately be just part of a “set of city deals across Northern Ireland”).