Belfast Telegraph

Business groups and experts give Northern Ireland Budget a cautious welcome

By Margaret Canning

A new plan for Northern Ireland's finances will "keep the lights on" with measures including the transfer of £100m from capital to current spending, it has been claimed.

Retail groups have also welcomed a decision to introduce a modest rise of 1.5% in business rates after fears the levy could go up by 10%. However, domestic rates have been hit with a rise above inflation at 4.5%.

The plan includes the release of £410m promised by the Conservative Party to the DUP in return for its support in Westminster.

Ulster University economic policy centre economist Dr Esmond Birnie said funding for government departments looked somewhat better after a written statement on Northern Ireland finances was introduced by the Secretary of State Karen Bradley.

He said: "The funding position for departments next year in terms of current spending now looks a little less grim.

"One expedient has been switching £100m from capital to current spending.

"A more radical Budget might have questioned the previous policy of heavily weighting spending increases to schools and hospitals."

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said the Secretary of State was to be commended for delivering the Budget after over a year without an Executive.

But chief executive Aodhan Connolly added: "While the modest rise in business rates in line with inflation is welcome, it does not fix the problem of an archaic rates system that is a disincentive to invest in Northern Ireland.

"The uplift in domestic rates will only serve to put even more pressure on the hard-pressed Northern Ireland consumer who already has half of the discretionary spending power of Great Britain households."

Retail NI chief Glyn Roberts said the circumstances of the Budget were not helpful. "We need to see local, accountable and elected ministers making the key decisions," he stressed.

"Northern Ireland deserves more than 'care and maintenance' administration and emergency budgets."

Meanwhile, Pamela McCreedy, chairperson of Chartered Accountants Ireland, made a "heartfelt" plea for political parties to prioritise health, education, jobs and the economy and return to Stormont.

Belfast Telegraph

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