Belfast Telegraph

Business hails windfall deal but 'Executive must return'

DUP pact with Tories includes £400m for NI roads projects

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland businesses have welcomed a "windfall" for the economy here secured with the DUP's Tory pact, but say restoring a working Executive should "remain a priority".

The additional £1bn of funding will include £400m for infrastructure, such as the long-awaited York Street interchange, £150m to improve broadband across Northern Ireland, as well as taking a fresh look at air passenger duty (APD) and the impact VAT has on tourism here.

And while cutting corporation tax gets a fleeting mention, it's "still a work in progress", according to one economist.

Dr Esmond Birnie of Ulster University said: "While there is not perhaps the bonanza of goodies that some of the wider speculation anticipated, there are sizeable spending commitments."

He said a number of "demanding pre-requisites", such as a balanced Budget and restoring devolution, remain.

Richard Ramsey, chief economist with Ulster Bank, said: "It is a windfall because if you think before the General Election, no one anticipated something of this magnitude... (and) getting a surprise fiscal stimulus."

And while the allocation of extra funds for areas such as infrastructure "will have positive knock-on effects", the priority should remain restoring a working devolved government, according to Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Trevor Lockhart, vice-chairman of CBI Northern Ireland, said "there is much in this agreement that business will welcome" but said "the number one priority for firms in Northern Ireland remains getting the Executive back up and running before the end of June".

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, welcomed the investment, which also included backing enterprise zones, and said: "It is now vital that the political parties conclude a deal to restore an Executive."

Northern Ireland's airports have also welcomed a fresh report which will be carried out into the impact of air passenger duty (APD) here - a £13 tax levied on most flights out of the UK.

A spokesperson for Belfast City Airport said: "If further consultation is a progression towards the removal of APD, then it must be welcomed."

Graham Keddie, managing director of Belfast International Airport, said: "We're delighted it formed part of the discussions. In coming months, we will be vigorous and tireless in our efforts to get the right decision - not only for the airport, but for the regional economy."

Linda Brown, director of the IoD in Northern Ireland, welcomed the additional funding but said: "It is imperative now that the ongoing talks to enable the reformation of the Northern Ireland Executive reach a speedy conclusion in order for this new financial package to be successfully implemented."

Mr Ramsey added: "It's quite broad-ranging and includes infrastructure. All of that, the business community would welcome. The issue is, what we have here is another handout. Northern Ireland has to turn to self help. Getting the likes of the Executive up and running is crucial. Some will be saying we have gone from 'show me the money' to 'show me the Executive'."

He said corporation tax, along with APD, will likely "rumble on" for some time.

Meanwhile, Roger Pollen, head of external affairs at the FSB, said the deal is a "welcome starting point for greater clarity and progress in the ongoing talks to restore the Northern Ireland Executive".

He added: "Any benefits from the deal, such as increased investment, can only be delivered upon through a functioning Northern Ireland Executive."

Mervyn McCall of Grow NI - which has led the call for devolving corporation tax - said: "We hope that the Assembly and the Executive will be reinstated and that all of the parties put their talents and abilities to optimal use in driving forward our economy."

And Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said a report into the VAT rate here is to be welcomed.

"At its current 20%, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage (compared with the Republic's rate of 9%) and acts as a brake on the growth of our hospitality sector."

Belfast Telegraph

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