Belfast Telegraph

Northern Irelandbusiness 'no better off' from measures after Budget

By Margaret Canning

Chancellor Philip Hammond brought "little comfort" to Northern Ireland business in his first Budget, it has been claimed. The CBI in Northern Ireland summed up the Budget and its increases in taxation including national insurance as a means of getting revenue into Treasury coffers "as the UK embarks on its precarious economic journey towards a hard Brexit".

Regional director Angela McGowan said: "Given the substantial uncertainties for many sectors across Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the next few years, there was little comfort for the Northern Ireland business community in the Chancellor's speech."

The Chancellor used the occasion of his first - and last - Spring Budget to urge Northern Ireland to get its own house in order before earning the power to set its own rate of corporation tax.

In written notes accompanying the Budget, Mr Hammond said that if the Executive demonstrated fiscal sustainability, the tax power would be devolved and subsequently cut to 12.5% from April next year.

The document, titled Overview of Tax Legislation and Rates, said that Northern Ireland's new tax regime was ready to go "if the Northern Ireland Executive demonstrates its finances are on a sustainable footing".

The Chancellor reiterated an earlier plan to cut the overall rate of corporation tax across the UK from 20% to 17% by 2020.

He also promised an additional £120m for Northern Ireland as part of the Barnett formula, which sets the level of public spending in the devolved regions.

But the funding boost was dismissed by North Down MLA and Green Party leader Steven Agnew as a "waste of opportunity" without an Executive in place and without a Northern Ireland Budget for 2017/18.

The CBI hit out at an increase to national insurance contributions for self-employed people from 1% to 10%.

Angela McGowan said the policy was a "significant surprise" from a Conservative government.

"While there are merits to a simplified tax system, the Government has to be very careful with this change as it could potentially curb entrepreneurship," she added.

"The increase in national insurance contributions from 1% to 10% next year could place significant pressure on people running their own businesses.

"It could also be considered negative for the Northern Ireland economy, where low levels of entrepreneurship prevail."

Jamesina Doble, director of investment management with Belfast wealth management company Johnston Campbell, summed up the Chancellor's approach as "steady as she goes".

Most taxation measures remained the same, with the exception of the increase in national insurance contributions for the self-employed. The tax-free dividend allowance was also cut from £5,000 to £2,000.

Ms Doble said: "Rather than out-and-out taxation, we are seeing underhand stealth increases carried out by reducing some of the tax relief measures."

Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at the Ulster University economic policy centre, said the Chancellor had opted for a cautious approach after better than expected growth of around 2% in GDP last year.

"He was able to enjoy some of the benefit of the better than expected recent economic growth," he explained. "However, he decided to bank most of his fiscal gains as a safeguard against future uncertainties."

Belfast Telegraph