June 27, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
As soon as the Conservative-DUP deal was announced yesterday morning the pre-prepared press statements were being fired off by all sides of the political sphere. There was an obviously planned and agreed supportive statement from ex-PM David Cameron. Then there were the anguished cries of virtue-signalling rage from those people who seem to think that a political deal to form and maintain a Government means that Theresa May is now going to row backwards on Gay marriage, whatever the text of the deal.
There were also the obviously planned howls of protest from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, which I take to be based around the realisation the two sides of the announced agreement had got round the Barnett formula. In case you don’t know what that is, it is the formula created by Lord Joel Barnett in the 1970s to work out what percentage of public spending has to go to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each year. It is what has resulted in the residents of Northern Ireland and Scotland receiving much more per head in terms of public spending than residents of England. But the Conservative/DUP deal has found a way around this by allocating spending to particular projects in a ‘one-off’ way that means the spending doesn’t have to be repeated in Scotland and Wales.
The agreement between the Conservatives and the DUP means there will be £200m a year spent on infrastructure development (bridges and roads and the like). There will be £75m a year for two years to provide ultra-fast broadband to the country. There will be city zones and enterprise zones as well as £20m for five years to target pockets of severe deprivation. £50 million a year is going to the Northern Ireland executive to relieve immediate pressures in health and education as well as another £100m a year for two years to support the health service in general. There will then be £10m a year for five years on mental health support.
When you add the maintenance of the triple lock on pension rises (£6bn a year) and the abandonment of plans to means test the Winter Fuel Allowance, it seems a hefty price to pay for 10 votes in Parliament. Doesn’t it?
But, maybe it’s time to think about why Northern Ireland is different. The agreement states it itself – Northern Ireland’s history means that it has unique circumstances and unique need to rebuild. The money that will now be shovelled in its direction might possibly have been needed over the past few years and if the DUP’s position as the one party willing to help the Conservatives provide a Government for the UK means it gets it now, all well and good.
Take two examples. Given the past conflict in that country – the £50m to support an increase in mental health work will be welcome. We surely all benefit in terms of economic growth from Northern Ireland getting the same access to ultra-fast broadband as the rest of us. Broadband should be designated a utility by now anyway, and the benefit to Northern Ireland in terms of both firms and consumers will be tangible.
Look at it another way. There is nothing in this deal that doesn’t benefit EVERYONE in Northern Ireland, Protestant or Catholic. Sinn Fein have every right to be wary of the DUP and the UK Government making a deal, given the latter needs to have neutral status in the power-sharing negotiations, but can they find anything to complain about here?
The truth is that whilst the money about to be spent on Northern Ireland is an expense incurred from Theresa May’s arrogant and incompetent election campaign. But that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing to have happened.