‘Urgent action’ needed from Stormont on budget and delivery plan – SDLP MP

The Northern Ireland Executive should be taking “urgent action” on releasing a programme for Government and a budget, which have not been presented 12 weeks on from the restoration of devolution, an SDLP MP has said.

There was no functioning devolved administration in Northern Ireland for two years due to the DUP’s boycott of Stormont in protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Following extended negotiations with the DUP, the UK Government pledged a £3.3 billion package to support the return of devolution in Northern Ireland earlier this year.

Chloe Mitchell missing
SDLP MP Claire Hanna said people in Northern Ireland were frustrated

During Northern Ireland questions in the Commons, SDLP MP Claire Hanna (Belfast South) said people in Northern Ireland were frustrated “at the lack of pace of delivery by the Executive,” and called for an imminent programme for government and budget to be released.

She told MPs: “After a two-year void, they’re saying they don’t want to be hurried to deliver for Northern Ireland. Healthcare staff who are pressed, people waiting for special educational needs and people watching Lough Neagh face another summer of algae bloom are very much in a hurry for action.

“Northern Ireland urgently needs a delivery plan, it needs a programme for Government and it needs a budget.

“Yes, resources are a part of that, can the Minister update on any negotiations on the fiscal framework and can he impress on the Executive the need for urgent action and not just warm words?”

Budget 2024
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said that civil servants were working with Stormont to upgrade public services (James Manning/PA)

“They’re only 12 weeks in and I do look forward to good results in the short, medium and long term.”

Earlier in the session Mr Heaton-Harris said Whitehall civil servants would “collaborate with” Stormont in their efforts to upgrade public services in the region.

He said: “There is now a fantastic opportunity and we are trying to take it, for the UK Government to collaborate with and support the Northern Ireland Executive to transform public services.

“The UK Government has high hopes that ministers in the Executive will deliver on their commitments to set up a transformation board and the Government is excited to work with Northern Ireland ministers to produce plans that will deliver that transformation for Northern Ireland.”

Former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers asked whether Northern Ireland could be ‘levelled up’ (Yui Mok/PA)

He told the Commons: “It is a fact that the Executive needs to both transform public services and improve revenue-raising so that everything there can be on a sustainable basis.”

Also in the session, Mr Heaton-Harris said the Government is “working to figure out” how much the renovation of Casement Park will cost, with recent prices “significantly higher” than they were a year ago.

There has been uncertainty around funding for the redevelopment after reports suggested it could cost as much as £308 million.

Casement Park GAA stadium
The Government is ‘working to figure out’ the renovation of Casement Park after reports suggested it could cost as much as £308 million (Niall Carson/PA)

In February, the Irish Government offered £40 million towards it, and the GAA has said it will contribute £15 million.

Last week First Minister Michelle O’Neill said they were awaiting the UK Government’s decision on plugging the remaining funding gap.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Hilary Benn told the Commons: “The UK’s successful bid to host with Ireland the 2028 Euros is a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland, but with just three years left to build the Casement Park Stadium, the Executive has yet to invite tenders.

He added: “Given the clock is now clicking how does (Mr Heaton-Harris) intend, with others, to honour that guarantee so the stadium gets built on time?”

“And any tax-payer contribution to the Casement Park project will need to be made on a value-for-money basis, and I’ve said also many times there is no blank cheque here, especially when there is no contractor appointed yet, we do not want to artificially inflate a price.

“The Northern Ireland Executive will also need to decide on whether and how it will underwrite any future increases in cost, so we are all, all partners are working together to try and figure out what the number is and how we can deliver on it.”

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