Belfast Telegraph

Robinson blasts delay as business chiefs take corporation tax cut battle to Westminster

By Margaret Canning

Peter Robinson has lambasted Treasury officials for holding up the devolution of corporation tax.

Speaking in London at the largest ever gathering of Northern Ireland's business leaders outside the province, Mr Robinson told the civil servants delaying change to "look at their shoes" in shame.

The DUP said the civil service had "a mind of its own" on the business tax.

He added: "Clearly the idea is to make it less attractive for the Executive, delay the process as much as possible, and indicate that it's going to take many years for this to be done."

Sixty of Northern Ireland's most prominent business people took over a corner of Westminster to put their case for the tax cut.

The Government is expected to indicate this summer whether or not they will devolve corporation tax powers to the Assembly.

A long-running campaign by the CBI and other business groups to have the tax cut from the UK main rate, currently 24%, culminated in yesterday's big day out in London.

A meeting was held in the CBI's Centre Point headquarters in the capital before a reception in a Westminster hotel last night, addressed by both Secretary of State Owen Paterson and Mr Robinson (right).

The day was dominated by the business people who had given up their time to put the case for enabling Northern Ireland to set a tax rate closer to the Republic's prized 12.5% level.

Declan Billington, chief executive of animal feed processor John Thompson and Sons, said: "If Northern Ireland is ever to move to a strong footing and better footing for its economy, there's really only one game in town.

"Corporation tax really is the only tool which can grow industry.

"We want to remind our politicians to keep putting forward the arguments and to remind people that it's really important for the people of the UK and the people of Northern Ireland alike. If we are able to develop a dynamic economy we are much less of a burden on Westminster."

Brian McCann, chief executive of Clarehill Plastics, said cutting corporation tax had worked in the Republic.

"I lived and worked in the Republic in the late 1980s and saw what a difference the corporation tax breaks made to the economy there.

"This brings relatively low risks... The overall benefit to the economy is so overwhelming the cost is not a debating point.

"Without it Northern Ireland will be doomed to the same track with a lower trajectory than any other devolved administration."

Darina Armstrong, chief executive of the Progressive Building Society, attended the event and expressed her support for cutting corporation tax.

But she said that it was now or never.

"I don't think there will be this opportunity or enthusiasm again," she added.