Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Assembly unlikely to sign up for new mortgage scheme

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne 
Carl Court/PA Wire
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne Carl Court/PA Wire

The Executive is unlikely to adopt the Chancellor's plan to underwrite mortgages in a bid to help people get on the property ladder, it was claimed.

In the last Budget, George Osborne announced measures that would see the Government guaranteeing mortgages for three years from January where applicants can put down a 5% deposit.

But speaking to the Enterprise Committee in Stormont yesterday, PricewaterhouseCoopers chief economist Dr Esmond Birnie said he did not believe the scheme would be extended to Northern Ireland.

"The Executive has a choice of how far to buy into those or do they continue along existing lines like co-ownership, which the Finance Minister has said has worked relatively well," he said.

"It's not necessarily the case that we should try and transplant George Osborne's policies to here – and if we did there might be expenditure implications – and that has to be borne in mind."

MLAs probed Dr Birnie on his views of the spectacular crash in the Northern Ireland property market, which has seen prices tumble by around 56% on their 2007 high of £240,000.

He said the best way for the market to recover was by gradual price rises.

"We should not want to have a huge upsurge in prices as the great growth in prices, and to some degree the boom related to credit and money moving in from southern Ireland from 2005 to summer 2007, is partly the explanation for our difficulties now," he said.

"Commentators would say a return to a gradual growth in prices, not hugely out of line with growth of the economy or inflation, would probably on balance be a good thing particularly dealing with issues like negative equity."

He was also quizzed on the range of unemployment measures and said there should be more statistics available for the scrutiny of Northern Ireland's economic inactivity rate, which at 27.4% is the highest of the 12 UK regions.

"Notwithstanding what happens to unemployment rate, economic inactivity has remained stubbornly high and is currently in the high 20s," he said.

"We would like to know more about why that is so and what can be done to reduce it."

24.7%

Northern Ireland economic inactivity rate – highest of the 12 UK regions

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