Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 28 JUNE 2000
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?
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
(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
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 Thompsonand
I say this while we are altogetherthat 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 informedat least
in my caseof my ignorance. You have had the mild advantage
that you are profoundly expert in the things which we were discussing
and we have at leastagain in my own caseperiodically
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.
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