Stormont: Government offers £2.5bn devolution return package

Financial package worth £2.5 billion, the financial package proposed by the United Kingdom government to support the resumption of devolution in Northern Ireland.

It would include a new "needs-based" funding formula for public services and a lump sum to resolve pay claims in the public sector. Additionally, overspending from the previous and current years could be repaid over a period of five years. Party leaders have stated that the funds are insufficient.

Since February 2022, when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) withdrew support in retaliation for its boycott of post-Brexit regulations governing trade into and out of Northern Ireland, the region has been devoid of a devolved government.

In Northern Ireland, coalition governmenting necessitates the largest nationalist and unionist parties to share power.

The Northern Ireland Executive, which failed in the absence of DUP support, resulted in senior civil servants assuming the leadership of government departments rather than ministers.

The financial package announcement was made at Westminster during the first roundtable discussions since July between Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and the five major parties in the province.

It is believed that the government is framing the £2.5 billion funding package as contingent on the return of devolution.

In addition, the Northern Ireland Executive would be required to publish a revenue-raising strategy by next spring, increase rates (the property taxes paid by businesses and households) by at least 15%, and establish a Public Services Transformation Board.

The principal parties of Stormont have been briefed by the government on the headline offer; additional technical briefings are forthcoming.

It is uncertain whether the government will fully fund the £580 million in public sector pay pressures that Stormont's Department of Finance has previously estimated it will face this year.

In 2024–25, a new, long-term funding arrangement would supplement the block grant to ensure that per capita expenditure in Northern Ireland did not fall below a predetermined 'fiscal floor'.

This is in accordance with Welsh arrangements whereby Wales is guaranteed £115 for every £100 per capita spent on public services in England.

This considers the varying expenses associated with providing public services of equivalent quality across various regions of the United Kingdom.

The government has stated that it is willing to accept the £124 per head funding threshold, which would amount to an additional £785 million over a period of five years. The package would also include a £1.125 billion "stabilisation fund" with a four-year duration.

A second funding tranche of £600 million, comprised of both reallocated and new funds, could be used to transform public services.

Following multi-party discussions with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, leaders of each political party addressed the media individually.

Naomi Long of Alliance stated that the funding is insufficient because "it is not about dangling ornaments before Christmas or attempting to get everyone to hurry back; it is not a short-term solution."

In contrast, Doug Beattie of the UUP stated that "doing the pay agreement that needs to be done" for public sector employees was sufficient for the time being, but that it may not be sufficient in the long run.