Simon Hamilton: David Cameron will make right call on Northern Ireland corporation tax
Published 23/01/2014 | 04:00
The Finance Minister said he remains optimistic that Prime Minister David Cameron will "take the right decision" to devolve tax setting powers to Northern Ireland this year.
Simon Hamilton was speaking at the first talk of Minister On The Move, a new series organised by the Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with British Airways.
Four of Northern Ireland's top firms will host a visit from the minister during 2014, with company representatives invited to come along and share their views on the economy directly with him.
The first event took place at the Castlereagh depot of defence firm Thales. Last week it landed a £100m contract to supply missiles and launchers to Indonesia.
The company is also involved in aerospace and ground transportation, making radar and air traffic control systems, inflight entertainment consoles and control equipment for many of the world's subway rail services.
In Northern Ireland, where it employs around 500 people, the company is a centre of excellence for the design and construction of missiles and is also developing laser weaponry and products for the space industry.
Future events have also been confirmed with the Henry Group in Magherafelt, Glen Dimplex in Newry and Terex in Dungannon.
Mr Hamilton told the audience that the economy was on the up, before taking questions on access to finance, procurement in the construction industry, confusion over Government policy on renewables and corporation tax.
Ashley Pigott from AJ Power Limited, which makes diesel generator sets, expressed frustration over the advanced payment of corporation tax, which he said meant his company was having to 'sit on' money for a year rather than spend or invest it.
Mr Hamilton said that while he doubted he would ever be responsible for administrating corporation tax, its devolution could be a step in the right direction.
A long-awaited decision on whether Northern Ireland's rate could be set to closer to that of the Republic of Ireland has been stalled until after the Scottish independence referendum.
"Reducing the rate will help businesses but I am not sure what could change on the administration side," said Mr Hamilton.
"We are a small economy but if tax powers were to be devolved that would allow us a voice and we could take other issues to the Treasury. I remain optimistic that the Prime Minister will take the right decision."
Other contributors included Colin Loughran of Lagan Construction, who said that the procurement process set the bar too high for many local companies, and David Henry of Henry Brothers, who said that pipeline work was not being widely publicised.
John Toner from Williams Industrial Services Ltd said that banks were currently so risk-averse that they would only lend with 0% risk and that investors were nervous about a perceived lack of joined up thinking about renewables policies.
Richard Bell from Solmatix Solutions said that capital grants were also a problem, providing a 'Klondike effect' which is providing cash for a short period but is proving unsustainable long-term.