Belfast Telegraph

Small firms' fury over draft budget plan delay

A BUSINESS lobby group has voiced concern over the time it has taken some Stormont departments to publish responses to the Draft Budget.

Four of the 12 departments have issued their plans for dealing with the cuts - but the Federation of Small Businesses said there was an "overwhelming need" for responses well in advance of the consultation deadline date of February 9.

Roger Pollen, FSB head of external affairs, said that the wait for department responses was making it "impossible" for the business group, which represents over 8,000 small businesses in Northern Ireland, to give an informed response to the budget consultation.

"There is a pressing urgency to expedite this matter in order to ensure that our members have a fair opportunity to consider the implications of the plans, respond to it and allow us time to formulate a representative response," he said.

"The small business sector here is the very lifeblood of the economy. It represents 99% of all business in Northern Ireland and employs almost half a million local people."

Mr Pollen added: "These delays come on top of already difficult circumstances which have seen economic activity hit hard by global recession, extreme weather conditions and growing unemployment and we are dismayed and disappointed that so many departments at Stormont have thus far failed to make their intentions publicly known."

The Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment is the latest to announce its plans to deal with cuts of over £9m between 2011-2015, with planned reductions in financial support to Invest NI, Tourism Ireland and InterTradeIreland.

The Department of Finance and Personnel, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and the Department of Justice have all published their proposals.

In a DETI statement on its proposals, it said the amount of support which can be offered by Invest NI will be "curtailed" if it is to meet existing spending commitments such as spending on Bombardier's C-Series aircraft project.

It said Invest NI would face a "key challenge" to spend money which had not already been allocated in a way that would maximise return to the Northern Ireland economy.