Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales react coolly to Hunt’s autumn statement

SNP accuses chancellor of reintroducing austerity, while Welsh government warns of ‘gap’ in funding despite £1.2bn uplift

The Scottish National party has accused the chancellor of reintroducing austerity after he announced that Scotland would get a £1.5bn uplift in funding over the next two years in the autumn statement.

Jeremy Hunt told parliament that the NHS and schools in Scotland facing “equivalent pressures” to those in England would benefit from the funding under the Barnett formula, which is used by the Treasury to allocate expenditure to devolved administrations.

In other parts of the UK, the Labour-led Welsh government warned that the country’s budget would be left with a “gap” even after Hunt announced Wales would get an additional £1.2bn over two years, while there was a cool response in Northern Ireland, where relief at a home heating oil support package failed to quell anxiety over austerity and public services.

In questions and answers after his speech, Hunt told the SNP Treasury spokesperson, Alison Thewliss: “I understand that separation means more to her than anything else in politics, but families in Scotland today heard other things.

“They heard £600m for the Scottish NHS, £385m for schools, over 4bn to help Scottish families with their energy bills.

“That is because we are more than neighbours, we are family, and Conservatives always back families.”

Linking the government’s policies to Brexit, Thewliss had said that all of Westminster’s unionist parties were committed to it, which she described as a “futile project of deliberate self-destruction”.

In Holyrood, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, accused the UK government of “repeating the mistakes of the past”, as she warned there could be “significant consequences” for the public, businesses and public services.

“These plans are likely to worsen the extreme pressures already being faced as a result of inflation and rising interest rates,” said Sturgeon, who was questioned on the impact of the autumn statement during first minister’s questions at the Scottish parliament.

“The UK is almost unique among wealthier countries in reintroducing austerity. It is the wrong approach and will have a significant adverse impact on people and public services across Scotland.”

In Wales, rising inflation was cited by the Welsh government as the reason why it estimated that its budget next year will be worth £1.5bn less despite the funding announced in the autumn statement.

The Welsh finance minister, Rebecca Evans, told the Guardian: “We were disappointed by the announcement by the UK government in respect of the additional funding to come to Wales. It doesn’t even begin to address the gap that we expect to have in our finances next year as a result of the impact of inflation. There will be impacts on public services and we need to ensure we protect the most vulnerable.”

She said a lack of new capital funding meant the Welsh government may have to deliver projects over longer periods and scale back the ambition of others. “We will have to look closely at our plans.”

But she said she had had three meetings with the chief secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, which she said was an encouraging sign that the new UK administration was prepared to listen to Wales.

The chancellor confirmed that all households in Northern Ireland would receive a £200 payment to help with energy costs. Originally the payment was £100 and limited to those using home heating oil.

However, it remained unclear when households in the region will receive an additional, long-promised £400 energy support payment. “This is imperfect, but at least there is movement. We now need a clear timetable for this rollout and the £400 electricity payment,” said Ian Paisley, a Democratic Unionist MP.

Other parties and business groups were more critical and said Northern Ireland remained in political and fiscal limbo, lacking an executive or assembly and facing a £650m hole in public finances.

“What was needed today was a credible plan to rebuild public services and grow the economy through investment in health, skills, and the transition to net-zero,” said Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson, Conor Murphy. “Instead the Tory budget announced today will push us deeper into an unnecessary recession.”

Northern Ireland’s paralysed political institutions and heavy reliance on the public sector have prompted concern that austerity will deliver a disproportionate hit to its economy.

Hunt also used the autumn statement to say the UK government was “reconfirming” its commitment to work with the Scottish government on options to improve the A75, a road that is part of Scotland’s connections with Northern Ireland and runs from Gretna to the port of Cairnryan.

The move is in line with the findings of a major transport report known as the union connectivity review, which emphasised that it would make journeys between Northern Ireland and Scotland easier.


Ben Quinn, Steven Morris and Rory Carroll

The GuardianTramp

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