Belfast Telegraph

Jonathan Bell: Energy prices and corporation tax are priorities

By Jamie Stinson

New Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell has vowed to put energy costs and corporation tax at the top of his priorities.

Arlene Foster's successor said he will also focus on encouraging the learning of foreign languages to give Northern Ireland the best shot at business opportunities in the future.

Mr Bell said he will "champion corporation tax", but conceded there was a lot of work to do to resolve questions around devolution.

The DUP South Belfast MLA said he would continue the work of his predecessor Arlene Foster but that "every minister has their own individual style".

He said: "I think Arlene has been an absolute champion for enterprise, trade and investment over the last seven years,

"So I'll be very much wanting to build upon the work of Arlene," adding that he would trying to "add value" to other areas.

Corporation tax powers which are to be devolved to the Assembly if the Executive agrees on welfare reform will be top of the minister's agenda.

He will need to allay fears among the business community that the impasse over the tax will be resolved.

"I've said I'll champion corporation tax," Mr Bell said.

"Now, there is a challenge with welfare reform. I am confident that all of our ministers will work hard together, because it's going to be a collective effort to achieve a lower rate of corporation tax."

Mr Bell said he was aware of companies which were set to create jobs as soon as the tax was devolved. "I'm aware of major companies in Northern Ireland that are looking immediately, - even in advance of corporation tax coming into place - at increasing their workforce."

Mr Bell acknowledged that Northern Ireland businesses faced some of Europe's highest energy costs.

"We are acutely aware of the cost of energy in Northern Ireland and the challenge that provides for business."

And learning foreign languages was an essential skill, he added.

"What we all have got to do is look towards where the future of business opportunities are going to lie and ensure in terms of language and commercial skills and whatever other skills that are necessary, we give our young people the opportunities to avail of those in the future."

Belfast Telegraph