Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland businesses cheer as Osborne hails corporation tax cut and adds £11bn to block grant

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland businesses have said the Chancellor "listened to their concerns" as they welcomed his Autumn Statement and Spending Review.

Business groups said George Osborne had funded areas that would drive productivity and long-term growth, including infrastructure projects.

Mr Osborne - in his first Autumn Statement as Chancellor in the all-Tory Government - reiterated the Treasury's commitment to a 12.5% rate of corporation tax for Northern Ireland, following the 'Fresh Start' political agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein last week.

Mr Osborne said: "That's a huge prize for business in Northern Ireland, and the onus is now on the Northern Ireland Executive to play their part and deliver sustainable budgets to allow us to move forward."

He said added block grant would be over £11bn by 2019-20, "and funding for capital investment in new infrastructure will rise by over £600m over five years, ensuring Northern Ireland can invest in its long term future".

And in good news for Northern Ireland's aerospace sector, the Chancellor said: "We commit to the same level of support for our aerospace and automotive industries, not just for the next five years, but for the next decade."

He added that a regional air connectivity fund would provide £7m towards regional routes "from Belfast to Carlisle to Derry and Dublin".

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, the Chancellor said the autumn statement was delivering opportunity "for everyone from London to Londonderry".

Wilfred Mitchell, policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland, said: "Given the tight constraints that the Chancellor was working to, small businesses will be pleased that he has listened to their concerns."

But he added: "The reduction in corporation tax ought to be brought forward to April 2017, in order not to delay or waste any growth opportunities."

And Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said that a new Apprentice Levy - to be introduced in 2017 at a rate of 0.5% of an employer's pay bill - was "corporation tax by the back door".

But Jackie Henry, senior partner at business advisers Deloitte in Northern Ireland, said small businesses would be spared from the apprentice levy because of a £15,000 rebate.

"This is positive news for Northern Ireland, which relies so heavily on businesses in this category," he added.

And Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the new spend on infrastructure.

She said it was a major issue among members "who believe that Northern Ireland's infrastructure is sub-optimal".

"There is a lack of delivery of key projects (eg: the North South electricity Interconnector and the A5 to convert the 55-mile route from Aughnacloy to Londonderry to a dual carriageway) and our road networks are not well maintained," she added.

John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation echoed the call for key infrastructure projects to be expedited, adding: "While May's Assembly election means that the Executive intends to only set a one year budget, we hope ministers will at this stage commit themselves to funding major infrastructure projects that will be delivered over several years."

The Chancellor also announced financial incentives for house-builders in England - and Mr Armstrong said the renewed commitment to house-building should be replicated here.

Belfast Telegraph