Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland business chiefs demand 'tax zones' for firms

By Clare Weir

Special 'opportunity zones' for Northern Ireland which would include a fast-tracked planning process, a 100% rates relief and reduced corporation tax rate of 12.5% have been proposed today as part of a new manifesto to help kick-start the economy.

Over 1,000 members of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce were consulted in the drawing up of the 'enabling economic excellence' document, which was launched this morning at Stormont.

Delegates heard that the recovery will be led by the private sector and that the proposals involve a change in how the public sector works.

The chamber has also claimed that red tape has cost business in Northern Ireland some £2.4bn since 1998 and has called for at least a 25% reduction in bureaucracy.

The new plan centres around the creation of new 'opportunity zones' with 100% rates relief for new companies and those with expansion plans for an initial three years; a fast-tracked planning process; relief on National Insurance payments for all employees in new businesses for an initial three-year period; and access to a Jobs Fund to revitalise employment.

The proposals additionally include a government credit guarantee scheme for firms with growth and export plans, reduced corporation tax rate of 12.5% and an independent review of all public expenditure.

Francis Martin, president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said businesses are ready to step up to the mark.

"Special opportunity zones will become incubators for home business and magnets for international investors," he said.

"The creation of these opportunity zones in areas with below average private sector employment will ensure that investment is targeted both in areas with historical unemployment and where public sector job losses will hit hardest.

"Much that we propose involves change in how the public sector works and not necessarily new money. In addition, if we examine the millions in social welfare support, it quickly becomes clear that money could be used to build jobs and hope instead of extending unemployment and dependency."