NI public sector pay: Finance minister raises ‘serious concerns’ as £3.3bn details of package confirmed

Current deal “does not provide sustainable solution” to pay pressures, minister says
Caiomhe Archibald. Photo: PA/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

15 Feb 2024

Northern Ireland finance minister Caoimhe Archibald has raised concerns over the UK government’s £3.3bn settlement for the restored executive after full details of the package were outlined.

The Treasury wrote to the Northern Ireland Executive on Tuesday, outlining the details of the package. Archibald has responded, telling the Treasury she has “serious concerns” about the deal, with the public sector pay sum one of her chief worries. 

She said the £584m on offer for public sector pay awards in 2023-24 does not “provide a sustainable solution” to pay demands. There is “a clear public expectation the financial package will fully address public sector pay pressures” but “the current package does not meet this expectation nor provide a sustainable solution”, she wrote to the Treasury. 

Archibald said last week that she will be seeking negotiations with the Treasury to get more funding for public sector pay rises and pledged to make a “fair and just” public sector pay settlement a priority. She said the £584m figure “only provides funding for one year and falls short of what is required”.

Last month, Northern Ireland Civil Service head Jayne Brady said an estimated £634m is needed to maintain "broad parity" between Northern Ireland civil servants and those in England, Scotland and Wales.

In a press release announcing the full details of the deal, Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said it "will deliver well-deserved pay awards for public sector workers". 

Archibald also criticised the requirement that the Northern Ireland Executive raise £113m in revenue in the next 12 months. “To expect this funding to be generated in such a short space of time can only serve to cause more harm to hard pressed families, households and businesses,” she said.

Department of Finance permanent secretary Neil Gibson confirmed on Wednesday that officials have not been asked to start work on revenue raising.

Archibald also raised concerns about the government’s stipulations on the development of a sustainability plan.

The NI Executive has committed to delivering a plan for sustainable public finances and service, which will include a focus on raising additional revenue. A condition in the financial package states the UK government will only write off £559m of NI debt once the executive delivers the sustainability plan. Archibald said this is “not acceptable”. She added: “It is our strong view that these debts exist primarily due to the underfunding of public services.”

Archibald also slammed the UK government for setting a “completely unrealistic” timescale of delivering the sustainability plan by May. She said the executive should instead be “given time and space to develop and agree a properly thought through sustainability plan that will put our finances on a more stabilised footing”.

Heaton-Harris said the package "tackles the immediate budget pressures facing the restored executive and allows it to take action to rapidly stabilise public services, while increasing opportunities for investment and improved infrastructure".

He added: "It is now for the Northern Ireland Executive to use this significant financial package to take forward the vital work of public service transformation and the commitment to deliver sustainable finances, ensuring better outcomes in the day to day lives of the people in Northern Ireland.”

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