Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Tax power could be devolved 'soon', says committee

'Convincing case' to lowering corporation levy says committee

Northern Ireland Science Park chief executive Norman Apsley (fifth from left) welcomes the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chair Laurence Robertson MP (seventh from left) and other members during a fact-finding mission to Belfast yesterday. The MPs were briefed on the facility's successes to date and its plans for the future. Mr Apsley told the committee of the park s work in encouraging indigenous start-ups

Devolving power over corporation tax is expected to happen "soon", the chairman of a powerful parliamentary committee indicated last night.

Conservative Party MP Laurence Robertson insisted the need to push ahead with proposals was urgent as he published a report that concluded there was a "convincing case" for reducing the levy.

But the Tewkesbury representative claimed suggestions that Stormont could look at undercutting the Republic by going lower than its 12.5% rate were simply in the spirit of "friendly rivalry".

The Northern Ireland Affairs committee released its findings after carrying out an in-depth inquiry into government proposals to allow Stormont to opt out of the current 26% UK rate to compete with the Republic.

Under European laws that would mean devolving responsibility over the tax to the executive and cutting the block grant to ensure the province did not enjoy an unfair advantage.

DUP committee member David Simpson called it a "trophy" that could be used as marketing to international companies, particularly if the rate was lower than Dublin's.

"Northern Ireland is open for business. And perhaps we could go out and say we have the lowest corporation tax in Europe," he said.

Alliance MP Naomi Long, a member of the committee, said: "On the specific issue of undercutting the Republic of Ireland with the 10% that's mentioned in the report, I think it is more complex than that.

"It's quite clear that when we are looking for foreign direct investment (FDI) we are looking much wider than simply competing with our nearest neighbour. You are competing in a global market."

But the committee said a tax cut would not be a panacea, and warned there would be considerable issues involved in implementing it, noting that UK and Irish tax systems are different and that it would have to comply with European Union (EU) rules.

Secretary of State Owen Paterson unveiled proposals to cut the tax earlier this year and insisted it was "emphatically not a gamble".

Treasury ministers were more circumspect, warning receipts were particularly volatile and could reduce significantly during times of economic hardship.

But English MPs on the committee insisted it was a gamble - they would love to have the option of taking in their own constituencies because they believed the wealth generation would outweigh the loss in state funding.

And they were surprised to discover the Treasury do not know exactly how much corporation tax is raised in Northern Ireland at present, insisting it was important that the Executive had as much information as possible before deciding if, and how, it wishes to lower the rate.