Northern Ireland finance officials are working directly with colleagues at the UK Treasury to establish a method that will allow households here to receive additional financial support to pay their energy bills in the absence of a leader, said Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy.
Culminating on the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme, Mr Murphy said households could receive confirmation of support in the coming months if an executive is established “in the next week or two”.
This is after a package of new measures to tackle soaring prices across the UK was announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday.
However, the UK Treasury says the current political instability in Northern Ireland means it cannot make payment through the normal Barnett Consequential, the mechanism used to calculate spending in devolved regions, to Northern Ireland. , as he had done before with a £200 energy loan payment scheme.
Mr Murphy said his officials were working with the Treasury to ensure people could receive the money without ‘going through the normal system’.
Every household in Britain will receive a grant that will cut energy bills by £400 from October. To do the same, Stormont would normally receive proportional funding – £165m in this case – due to the aftermath of Barnett.
There will also be a one-time payment of £650 to families on the lowest incomes which will be paid in two instalments. The first of these payments will be made in July and the second in the fall.
Mr Murphy said the process of working out how funding could be allocated in the absence of an executive will take “a number of weeks”.
“Treasury recognizes that if this money comes in, and it is absolutely necessary for people to fall as a consequence of Barnett, if the DUP continues at this point to frustrate the ability to put in place an executive and set up a government here then it will be left with all the £435m that cannot be spent because we need an executive to work with them,” he said.
Pressure is mounting on the DUP, which has so far said it will not form an executive unless its concerns over the Northern Ireland protocol are addressed. Sinn Fein has recalled the Assembly to meet on Monday in a bid to restore power-sharing and distribute to struggling households a total of £435m, said Mr Murphy, which exists in frozen funds no spent that have accumulated since the collapse of the executive.
Northern Ireland would also receive £14m as a result of Barnett, from additional funds announced by the Chancellor for the Household Support Fund in England, Mr Murphy said. However, he added that this additional money would require executive approval before it could be allocated.
“The easiest and surest way to get that money is to form an executive,” he said. “I hope we have another attempt on Monday to do it and I hope the DUP will agree to do it.
“It’s a conversation that’s just beginning, but the intention is to get it done and dusted off as soon as possible,” he said. The DoF wants to provide “certainty” to people before the payment is expected to arrive.
Many households are experiencing “a high degree of anxiety”. If we had an executive in place within a week or two, we could sort this out very quickly.”