Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 108)



Mr Burgon

  100. Under Section 67 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Treasury has powers to require information from Northern Ireland Ministers and Departments. Now similar powers exist in relation to the other devolved administrations with whom the Treasury has agreed relevant concordats. What progress has been made in agreeing a similar concordat for Northern Ireland and when may we expect it to be published?
  (Mrs Brown) Section 67 does permit Treasury to do that. Are you saying that a specific concordat is required to bring it into force?

  101. In as much as there are similar concordats with other devolved administrations?
  (Mrs Brown) I know that the devolved administration and the Secretary of State were in discussions during the period of devolution before suspension to agree a range of concordats. Suspension broke into that process, but it is a process that has been resumed and our expectation is that a concordat will be concluded shortly. I could not give you a specific date, but I am confident that it would not be very far away and once formally agreed it would be published.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Let me just verify whether any of my colleagues have any other questions they want to ask. Mr Thompson?

Mr Thompson

  102. Could I just finally talk about the Barnett Formula? The block grant that takes place each year, is that based on Barnett or is it based on negotiations between the Government and the various departments?
  (Mrs Brown) The block grant that is coming now to the devolved administration is essentially based on Barnett, but there is always the scope for the local administration to seek to negotiate something higher than that, without breaching Barnett, but perhaps some additional element such as the Chancellor's package which I mentioned earlier which was a large additional element.

  103. So if the Chancellor here and now announced, say, £150 million for education, would the amount that would come to Northern Ireland be based on the population basis according to Barnett?
  (Mrs Brown) Yes.

  104. But would it not in fact take into consideration that there is a higher percentage of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland than there is in the rest of the UK?
  (Mrs Brown) No, it is based on overall population. It does not take account of the number of children, the number of young people.

  105. The announcement then that so many thousand is to go to each school in Northern Ireland that then was paid out irrespective of Barnett? You remember there was an announcement that so much was to go to each school depending on their size?
  (Mrs Brown) Yes.

  106. That was outside Barnett?
  (Mrs Brown) No, because the amount of money coming in to the big purpose would have been what Barnett decreed. The way in which that money was then spread across schools in Northern Ireland is a decision for the local administration.

  Chairman: Mr Thompson, this would have been because there would have been similar expenditure on schools in other parts of the United Kingdom which would have underlaid the Barnett Formula.

Mr Burgon

  107. On that point there, I am a bit confused because I think the criteria for the distribution of that extra money Mr Thompson is referring to, was determined by the actual numbers on roll in particular schools. So, for instance, the largest primary schools with a roll of 201 plus were liable for something like £9,000 and the largest secondary schools were liable for up to £50,000. I thought that that was applicable right across the United Kingdom and there were no different breakdowns across the United Kingdom?
  (Mrs Brown) My understanding would be that Barnett would take account of the overall additional moneys allocated in England. It would total up the sort of process you are talking about and would then allocate to Northern Ireland the percentage based on the population of Northern Ireland. Now that amount would not necessarily be spent in Northern Ireland in the same way as it was being spent in England and indeed it is open to the local administration to decide that even though X million came in on Barnett because of increases in education spending in England that they would only allocate half X million to education in Northern Ireland or they could allocate 2X million. So they have scope not just to follow English patterns of expenditure, but to use the money that those patterns of expenditure bring in Barnett to disperse to better suit their local spending priorities.

  Mr Burgon: I think the Chancellor will be surprised.


  108. It may be helpful to Mr Thompson—and I say this while we are altogether—that I can recall an episode when I was myself in Northern Ireland where we had to declare a moratorium on capital expenditure because of the scale of damage that was being inflicted through terrorism. My initial action was to say to the Treasury we were not going to ask for extra money; we were going to have a moratorium on our side and we were going to seek to manage it. But I did have to warn the Treasury that if, in fact, the scale continued and there were serious economic consequences of postponing capital expenditure, then in those circumstances I might need to come back. But I was effectively giving Treasury good warning that that might be what I did. If there are no further questions, thank you very much indeed for the manner in which you were informed—at least in my case—of my ignorance. You have had the mild advantage that you are profoundly expert in the things which we were discussing and we have at least—again in my own case—periodically demonstrated that we are not. But it has been extremely helpful and you have been very patient with us and we are very appreciative.
  (Mrs Brown) Thank you very much and you have been very patient with us as well. I do want to add to one point and it is about railways funding. I have found an element in the sub-programmes which shows that there has been read-across to Northern Ireland and we have funding. I also understand that the changes in the DEL of the relevant department would feed across into Northern Ireland, but I am happy to write about that more fully to you[3].

  Mr Clarke: Thank you. That would be excellent.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

3   See Ev. p. 25 and Q38. See also Appendix 5, p. 28. Back

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