Corporation tax powers within our grasp as Theresa Villiers launches new Bill
Corporation tax powers which could "transform" the fortunes of tens of thousands of businesses are now within the grasp of Northern Ireland with the introduction of a UK Government Bill to hand over control to the region.
Launching the long-awaited legislation in front of business leaders, economists and politicians yesterday, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the new powers could bring a "transformative change" to Northern Ireland's economy.
And Prime Minister David Cameron said it was a "great opportunity" which he hoped Northern Ireland's leaders would "grasp with both hands".
The levy powers could be in the hands of Stormont by April 2017 - allowing Northern Ireland the chance to lower the business rate, bringing it in line with that of the Republic.
Business leaders and experts who have each been fighting for a rate reduction said it would have an "enormous impact" which could herald a "new dawn" in a "victory for business in Northern Ireland".
They are optimistic that lowering the rate to at least the Republic's 12.5% will attract businesses of all sizes to set up shop in Northern Ireland - increasing jobs numbers, raking in revenue and growing the private sector.
It's also hoped it will help some 34,000 eligible companies and small businesses here to grow and expand.
The long-running plan is a key part of the Stormont House Agreement and has received backing from the five main parties.
The weight is now on the shoulders of Northern Ireland's politicians. That includes agreement of a final balanced budget for Stormont, progress on welfare reform and successful passing of the Bill through the House of Commons before the dissolution of the UK parliament in March 30.
Ms Villiers said: "The Treasury believes it can be implemented, provided the Northern Ireland Executive can show that it is able to manage the financial implications.
"If we get this reduction and implement it, I think this will have a potentially hugely positive impact on the Northern Ireland economy for a huge range of people, whether they pay corporation tax, or if they don't."
Kevin Kingston, president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said it was a "huge step forward and a huge part of the journey to a much stronger private sector".
John Cunningham, chief executive of Camlin - the Lisburn firm which played host to yesterday's launch - said it was a "magnificent" day.
Eamonn Donaghy, head of tax at KPMG and a leading campaigner for devolution of the tax, said companies of all sizes from outside the UK would now be "a lot more interested" in coming to Northern Ireland. Ms Villiers told the Belfast Telegraph while there were "hurdles to be surmounted" yesterday's announcement was a "landmark date".
Under EU rules, Northern Ireland would have to compensate the Exchequer for any lost revenues, if it were to drop its corporation tax rate - most likely through a cut to its block grant. It's understood any increase in corporation tax revenues collected would be funnelled back into the Northern Ireland economy.
First Minister Peter Robinson warned of "massive repercussions" if the Labour Party - which had raised concerns over rushing the Bill - didn't give their support. Neither Ms Villiers or Mr Robinson would be drawn on a figure of how much a lowering of the tax could affect the block grant.Corporation Tax: The ins and outs of new era for NI businesses explained