Alliance welcomes city deal money but says Chancellor is ignoring elephant in room

Alliance representatives have welcomed money for a city deal for the Belfast region but added the Chancellor is ignoring the elephant in the room over Brexit.

Councillor Peter McReynolds and Stephen Farry MLA were speaking after Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced the Budget. The city deal will mean £350 million of funding, however, it is less than was predicted.

The Chancellor added “negotiations will begin” on a city deal for Derry-Londonderry, while £320 million was set aside for local Government Departments and £2 million given to Belfast city centre in the wake of the Primark fire.

“While the money is less than expected for the Belfast region city deal, it would be remiss to not recognise it as a fantastic opportunity for the area,” said Councillor McReynolds.

“This is also acknowledgement of the cross-collaboration between a number of local Councils. It is the opportunity to invest in innovative schemes to improve the infrastructure and skills base of the region. It is now up to all partners to stand up and deliver this deal. The hard work starts now.

“However, £2 million for Belfast city centre is disappointing, given it has been eight weeks since the Primark fire and other regions of the UK did not have that same delay after similar incidents. Clearly there is a bit of political spin between the UK Government and the DUP over this matter. I hope it is only an initial payment. We also note the commitment to discussions on the Derry-Londonderry city deal and hope they can soon celebrate a city deal of their own.”

His party colleague, Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MLA, said there was “no room for self-congratulations” over the financial figures shown by the Chancellor.

“Over the past few years, the UK economy has been performing sluggishly compared to its nearest competitors, according to key economic indicators such as productivity and growth. Brexit has already had a major impact, but there were already structural problems in the UK economy before that.

“The Chancellor’s figures are heavily qualified given the impact and economic uncertainty of Brexit. We cannot escape that large elephant in the room. Any form of Brexit will have severe implications for the UK economy, with a no deal Brexit magnifying them on a massive scale. It is likely the Chancellor’s figures calculations will be badly knocked off course over the coming months.

“Further Barnett Consequentials for Northern Ireland are always welcome, however there is a challenge to ensure those additional resources are spent strategically, making our public sector more sustainable and effective. In the past, Barnett Consequentials were used to simply plug the gaps and kick the can down the road. There is an even bigger danger than usual of that happening now due to the lack of an Executive.”

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