A former advisor to Margaret Thatcher claimed Northern Ireland’s “snout was well and truly in the public expenditure trough” and suggested the challenge for the then Conservative Government was to try and put the region on the “same diet as the English,” newly declassified state papers reveal.
David Willetts, now a Conservative MP but in 1985 a twenty-something member of the policy unit at 10 Downing Street, made the claim in a briefing note to the Prime Minister on expenditure in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
On July 29, 1985, he wrote: “Scotland and Northern Ireland have their snouts well and truly in the public expenditure trough.
“The challenge is to find a politically acceptable way of putting them on the same diet as the English.
“Last year, the Treasury proposed a ‘Needs Assessment Study’ to prove that Scotland and Northern Ireland were getting more than their fair share. “You rightly rejected that approach. It offered the worst of all possible worlds - an almighty row in Scotland, without any prospect of immediate savings.
“The Treasury have learnt their lesson. They aren’t advocating more fancy studies - the figures we already have in the paper show clearly how well Scotland and Northern Ireland are doing.
“What we need to do is to hold expenditure in 1986/87 and beyond in a way that is politically defensible.”
Last year Mr Willetts, speaking in his capacity as Universities Minister, controversially suggested a tuition free-for-all for students from Londonderry, London and Llandudno would create a £150m black-hole for third level colleges in a post-independence Scotland.