Full text of letter in NI regional papers:
Sinn Féin and the SDLP led the way in opposing our Welfare Reform Bill, deliberately leaving a £2.8 billion hole in this year’s Assembly Budget.
It appears they hope this will be filled by the generosity of the UK taxpayer, despite the fact Northern Ireland already receives £10 billion more that it raises in taxes. We are to “stand together” to demand still more, they say.
This would seem somewhat fanciful given the state of the UK’s finances and its current government’s likely priorities, but let us pretend for a moment that it is an option. Essentially, we are asking for still more money from the English taxpayer for Northern Ireland’s public services. How does that case look?
Firstly, those English householders already pay prescription charges, water bills, three times the tuition fees and Council Tax which is typically over double the Household Rates paid in Northern Ireland. Introducing all of this for Northern Ireland would raise almost £1 billion – that alone adding almost 10% to the Assembly’s annual current resource spending.
Secondly, we may look at our own wastage on segregated provision. Just this year, the Executive overruled a Minister who wanted to move away from the current system of training too many teachers in small and segregated and subsidised institutions inefficiently at a premium. Over an Assembly term, even starting this process by removing the subsidy would save £10 million – and that is just one example. By most estimates, integrating all such services (as is normal in England) would save over £1 billion per year for reallocation to frontline services – enough for the voluntary exit scheme, welfare mitigation and the reduction in Corporation Tax taken together!
Thirdly, there are other quirks here too. For example, both parties voted for a cap which means someone in a £1.2 million mansion pays just a third of their rates. Some voluntary organisations do not pay rates at all. Our concessionary fares scheme includes more people (at greater cost) than the English equivalent. All of this adds up to further millions lost to our budget.
So, we could in fact add over £2 billion (20% of current resource spending) to our frontline service budget by doing things differently ourselves – applying the same charges as in England, cutting the costs of division, and removing some of the quirks. That our populist politicians choose to ignore that obvious truth is not the fault of the English taxpayer!
The response from the UK Government to our begging bowl will be negative. That is hardly unreasonable, given our refusal even to meet halfway. Do we want lower household taxes, ongoing sectarian division and added giveaways? Then we will have to pay for them ourselves!
That is the choice – and politicians who refuse to make it have no business being in government. Of course, we could always just ‘devolve economic control’…