Business tax cut 'a unique chance'
A unique chance to regenerate Northern Ireland's economy by cutting corporation tax must not be blown, a leading businessman has warned MLAs.
The region will live to regret it if business tax rates are maintained and other stimulus measures not introduced, Wright Bus managing director Mark Nodder said.
In an impassioned address to the Assembly's Finance and Personnel Committee, the senior executive at the Ballymena manufacturer recalled how Northern Ireland once struggled to attract investors due to the Troubles.
"That has all now turned around," he said. "There's such a fantastic story to tell, people are anxious to come here and see it and taste it and see it for themselves.
"And from a businessman who's seen that development and believes passionately in what this little country has to offer, I just feel there's a sense that this is our time, and that if we blow this opportunity then we will all live to regret this because this is a unique opportunity to do something very, very different."
Mr Nodder was giving evidence on the proposed tax cut to the committee in his role as a member of the government-established business and finance panel, the Economic Advisory Group. Group chairman Kate Barker also fielded committee questions.
Business leaders have backed the move to reduce the rate from 26% to something closer to the 12.5% in the Republic of Ireland, amid claims it would generate 4,500 new jobs a year. But others, including unions, are opposed as it could only be delivered with an accompanying cut to public funding, as much as £400 million, from the Treasury.
The UK Government has not yet signalled whether it will hand Stormont the powers to set its own corporate levy and is awaiting the outcome of a public consultation exercise, which is due to end at the start of next month.
Mr Nodder said a lot of momentum had been created by the efforts of the US administration to generate interest among stateside investors.
He stressed that a cut would need to be accompanied by other measures such as increased investment in training and upskilling the workforce. "This subject that we are talking about today (corporation tax) is one strand of it, the skills sector is another strand, higher education is another strand," he said.