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Margaret Canning

Budget 2020 a crowd pleaser but little in it for Northern Ireland

Margaret Canning


Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers his Budget in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)

Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers his Budget in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)

Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers his Budget in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)

This was an almost universally crowd-pleasing Budget from the Chancellor, who was like a newcomer eager to keep almost everyone happy just weeks into the job.

Again and again he said the government was "getting it done" and fulfiling election pledges on helping regions around the UK. But the “almost” qualifier is crucial because there was little mention of Northern Ireland’s needs in the Budget.

The extra £210m for Northern Ireland will require further interpretation from the NI Department of Finance.

Large numbers of small retailers in Great Britain will be exempt from business rates but that doesn’t apply here.

And the pleading from Northern Ireland business and even the chief executive of Belfast City Airport for a cut in air passenger duty after Flybe’s collapse has fallen on deaf ears.

There was significant emergency funding for businesses and people who will be hit badly by the coronavirus with a total funding packing of £30bn.

The NHS is getting more funding — which will be partly paid for by a freezing in the corporate tax rate at 19% instead of a planned drop to 17%.

Rishi Sunak, delivering his first Budget after just four weeks in the job, delivered help for self-employed and casual workers who will be forced to take time off work to businesses whose bottom line will be hit by the inevitable fall in demand and the costs of sick leave.

Those measures will be welcomed with open arms and are crucial to cushion the economy UK-wide from coronavirus’s impact.

But only time will tell if the Chancellor was being unduly optimistic in maintaining that the economic effects of coronavirus will be only temporary.

There were numerous crowd-pleasing announcements such as a freezing in duty on spirits, beers and wine, and a freezing in fuel duty. The notorious #tampontax on women’s sanitary products has also been abolished.

And where he did take something away, Mr Sunak was quick to temper it with another concession to at least one pressure group.

Yes, relief on duty on red diesel has been abolished — but with the qualification that farmers will be exempt and others who are caught by the change have two years to prepare for it.

This was a populist Budget prepared to give people reassurance that the government is looking after us all and will get the UK through the coronavirus outbreak.

But it may be staving off pain of other tax rises that we’ll all have to face sooner rather than later.

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