Belfast Telegraph

Air passenger duty branded too high

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have insisted that the level of air passenger duty levied at Northern Ireland airports is too high.

It is thought the tax level is forcing travellers to use Dublin airport instead and threatening the future of the region's only transatlantic route - Continental's service to Newark from Belfast International.

A Treasury consultation on passenger duty ends on Friday and the Stormont Executive has made a submission asking for the powers to set its own rate.

"Passenger duty, I understand, is an important issue here," said Chancellor George Osborne on his first visit to Belfast since taking office.

"I am well aware of the particular geographic challenge you have in Northern Ireland with the proximity of the airport in Dublin and the importance also of the air link with the United States of America and that Continental flight, and we are at the Treasury consulting on the future of air passenger duty."

Treasury changes to how it deals with end year flexibility (EYF) resources - the money that goes unspent each year by UK Government departments and the devolved administrations - were also on the agenda.

Stormont ministers claim restricted access to this pot at the start of this financial year deprived them of around £315 million. But the Chancellor said the Government had made specific EYF concessions to Northern Ireland that had not been made to other parts of the UK, which allowed it to carry forward budget amounts from this year on.

On the primary issue of corporation tax, Mr Robinson reiterated the collective stance of the executive, saying: "We put very strongly the benefits that we see of having power over setting the level of corporation tax in Northern Ireland: the disadvantages we have been facing, the need to rebalance our economy and the benefits that can flow from it."

The First Minister said business tax was not the only way the administration would work to revive the private sector.

"This isn't simply a case of us relying on a lower level of corporation tax to solve our problems," he insisted. "We have a range of instruments that we are using to attract business to Northern Ireland but we feel that this would be a game changer that would be of very considerable significance."

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