Just 460 Northern Ireland firms sign up for 'total flop' tax initiative
A tax break for new businesses has been branded a "total flop" by Labour after the latest take-up figures were revealed.
Ministers admitted more firms could be taking advantage of the National Insurance holiday, which is worth up to £50,000 for new businesses taking on staff.
The initiative, which applies outside London and the south east of England, is being pushed hard in Northern Ireland as part of the Government's bid to "rebalance" the local economy, and Treasury ministers have visited the province to urge more businesses to sign up.
But new figures released in Parliament show that just 460 Northern Ireland businesses have taken advantage since September 2010.
Just over 10,000 successful applications had been made across the UK by November 21 - a fraction of the 400,000 promised by Chancellor George Osborne in his 2010 budget.
Northern Ireland's total was an improvement from July, when just 213 businesses were taking advantage of the offer. But it was still the lowest take-up of any region of the UK, 120 behind the north east of England.
Ministers agreed that take-up could increase, but said businesses had already benefited to the tune of £6m.
Labour's shadow Treasury minister Owen Smith said: "The one flagship policy that could have made a difference has been a total flop, supporting just one in 40 businesses who were promised help."
Under the National Insurance 'holiday', new businesses can claim up to £5,000 to cover National Insurance costs for each of the first 10 new employees they take on. The scheme applies during the first year of trading and will run until 2013. Less than 500 new businesses in Northern Ireland have taken advantage. At its launch, the Government estimated 400,000 businesses would benefit.