Time to re-boot Northern Ireland's economic policies, Assembly members told
The implications of the US presidential election and the Brexit vote underline the need for a re-boot of economic policies in Northern Ireland, Assembly members have been told.
The prospect of major cuts to corporation tax rates in the US and across the UK has changed the context of Stormont's own plan to reduce the levy on business profits in a bid to attract investment, according to a retailers' representative body.
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) was giving evidence to the Assembly's committee for the economy on the Executive's proposed programme for government for the current mandate.
Executive ministers intend to cut the corporation rate from the UK-wide 20% to 12.5% in 2018 after securing the devolution of tax setting power from Westminster.
The driver behind the reduction was to give Northern Ireland a competitive advantage when it came to attracting foreign direct investment. The rate is due to come into line with the 12.5% currently in operation in the Republic of Ireland.
However, since the agreement to devolve corporation tax powers, there have been reports the UK government could respond to a hard Brexit by reducing the nationwide rate to as low as 10%.
President-elect Donald Trump is also set to lower the rate in the US.
NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts told committee members the recent political developments elsewhere demonstrated the need to accompany a corporation tax cut in Northern Ireland with major investment in skills and infrastructure.
"When you consider that President Trump has indicated that the US may move to a 15% corporation tax rate, with the UK government post-Brexit indicating they may lower their headline rate of corporation tax down to as low as 10%, in many respects the world has moved on from our corporation tax debate," he said.
"Whilst it is important we do devolve it and have those powers at hand I think without that investment in skills and training, without that investment in our infrastructure, the potential for corporation tax will be lost."
He said a "multi-business approach" to skills and infrastructure was needed.
"We ignore those two vital areas of our economy at our peril," he said.
Mr Roberts outlined a number of key priorities for his organisation's members, including reform of the rating system.
The NIIRTA published its own suggested programme for government prior to the Assembly election, setting out almost 100 proposed action areas for the power-sharing administration.
Mr Roberts told the committee: "Since we published our own plan last February the world has changed many times over and our economic policy has to change and that's why I think our central message in terms of this new programme for government consultation is we need a reboot and a fundamental reassessment of our economic policy."