Brexit: UK pledges biggest budget increase for NI ‘in a decade’
Extra £400m pledged for Northern Ireland, to boost total budget to about £11.1bn
Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
The Northern Ireland budget is set to increase by an extra £400 million (€443 million) next year as part of the UK government’s new spending plans for its “first year outside of the European Union”.
The additional funding will boost the total Northern Ireland budget to an estimated £11.1 billion for 2020-21.
The UK government claims this represents an increase in the North’s budget of 1.8 per cent in real terms. According to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith, it is the “biggest increase in a decade” for the North.
Mr Smith said this would have “huge benefits for public services including health and education”.
However, one industry leader in the North said while the additional funding was welcome it would “not fix the fundamental problems in Northern Ireland”.
Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government at Stormont for more than two years and without a local finance minister to shape local budgets all of the key spending decisions have to be taken by senior civil servants.
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: “The announcement does not fix the fact that we are closer now to a no-deal Brexit that will put even further pressures on industry and family budgets across Northern Ireland. Now more than ever we need Stormont back up and running,” he added.
The announcement came as the North’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs confirmed that farmers would receive 70 per cent of advanced EU funding under the Common Agricultural Policy from October 16th.
The farm-support payments are initially set in euro and then converted to sterling using the average exchange rate during the month of September.
The department said Cap direct payments of some €322 million were paid to 24,358 farm businesses in the North in 2018.
According to the North’s Department for the Economy the amount paid to farmers “can be variable due to currency volatility”. The department has estimated that “every 1 pence move in the value of sterling against the euro changes the amount paid by approximately £3.2 million”.
If Brexit goes ahead, this could be the last year that Northern Irish farmers receive Cap payments, which farming leaders believe have played a vital role in the survival of farming communities.