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Budget Resolutions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:41 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down 9:41 pm, 16th March 2020

This will be a Northern Ireland double act. In my limited time, I wish to mention the impact of the Budget on Northern Ireland. Spending in Northern Ireland per capita is higher than in most other parts of the UK, but that reflects our legacy of division of violence, and there has been a lack of opportunity to restructure our economy over recent decades. I stress that only three out of 12 UK regions are net contributors to the UK Treasury.

Before the coronavirus crisis, the Northern Ireland economy was struggling to make ends meet—that was a result of 10 years of austerity, as well as of domestic mismanagement, and our failure to reform public services, or address the cost of managing a divided society where there is a lot of duplication. We need to get our house in order, and I welcome our feet being held to the fire in that regard, with things such as the forthcoming fiscal council.

There is an ongoing shortfall of £600 million to begin with, just to keep the lights on, never mind fulfilling the commitments in the “New Decade, New Approach” document. We need assistance and ongoing mature discussion between the Executive and the Treasury, about how we can better finance such issues. As Jim Shannon said, we have a particular crisis with coronavirus. Northern Ireland is different from other parts of the UK, including in terms of our economy, and although we welcome a lot of the initiatives that were announced over the past week—even tonight I think more money was announced for the devolved regions—it is unclear how far that will go to address our particular circumstances.

There is an issue with our ability to replicate the welcome 100% rates relief for small businesses in Northern Ireland, but that needs to happen. We have a particular dependence on tourism and hospitality, and we must ensure that those sectors are protected and able to survive. It is important that we get through this crisis with our economy in decent shape, and that we do not lose too many businesses along the way. Measures to support businesses and workers are important.

We can learn lessons from what is happening in other jurisdictions. In the Republic of Ireland, the Taoiseach has spoken about support for workers who would otherwise be laid off, and the Government should say to businesses, “We will make up that shortfall. Please don’t lay workers off.” In France, President Macron is offering to ensure that no business will go bust, and those are the types of lessons we need to learn for Northern Ireland. Hopefully, the Chancellor and Treasury will look favourably at that, and have a mature discussion with the Northern Ireland Executive over the coming days, to ensure an economic recovery plan for Northern Ireland.