Roads shortfall again puts Stormont funding priorities in spotlight

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The patchy state of our roads would now cost £1.2 billion to fix.

That is the sobering assessment of the auditor general, Kieran Donnelly, who said annual expenditure was £50 million less than it should be.

This is yet another indication that we need to think hard about our financial priorities in Northern Ireland.

Money might not continue to be pumped at us indefinitely from the Treasury in London, which has good cause to think that it has been generous with the Province over the decades.

That is why it is welcome that the DUP stamped on the suggestion that it was soliciting the chancellor for funds to support the Brexit deal. It would have looked awful to see an agreement that does constitutional damage to Northern Ireland followed by an announcement on Air Passenger Duty or some other cause (that would be worthy in another context).

The days of Stormont parties agreeing on nothing except further freebies ought to be over, if devolution returns.

It abolished prescription charges even for people who can easily afford them, it lowered the age of free public transport from 65 to 60 at a time of rising life expectancy.

It ducked reforms that would use taxpayers’ cash more efficiently, including rationalisation of healthcare, which has been recommended by multiple expert reports over 20 years.

It has refused all other contributions to public funding such as water charges. And it did not even discuss the merits of tolling major roads, say a £1 charge on the Belfast to Londonderry route and the same on the A1 to Dublin, which might have helped fund a motorway on those routes more than a decade ago. Note how motorists in the Republic have without complaint accepted tolling as a way to part fund its now world class motorway network.

Tolls would have also freed up money for repairs.

Schools, hospitals, policing and other areas of public life badly need funds. Now a shortfall on roads is confirmed too. So we must closely re-examine current funding allocation.