Northern Ireland budget ‘still not a done deal’ as business groups meet government officials
A budget for Northern Ireland is "still not a done deal" as businesses have met with senior officials to air their views ahead of an expected announcement this week.
A series of Northern Ireland's business lobby groups met officials from the Northern Ireland Office, ahead of an announcement by Secretary of State Karen Bradley.
Ms Bradley is expected to present a budget to the House of Commons tomorrow.
It's understood much of the discussion around the budget centred around a briefing paper which was published shortly before Christmas.
Speaking after the meeting, Glyn Roberts of Retail NI and Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster, said: "Both our organisations would much rather be engaging with devolved ministers on a budget.
"However, with no Executive in place, the NIO will have to produce a budget.
"Our members deserve much more than a 'care and maintenance' administration and emergency budgets.
"At the meeting we were very clear that the proposal to hike business rates by 10%, end the small business rate scheme and increase car parking charges are complete non-starters.
They added: "If the NIO is serious about growing the Northern Ireland economy, then adding to the already heavy burden of business rates bills that our members struggle with should not even be considered."
FSB NI policy chair Tina McKenzie has written to the Secretary of State to outline the organisation's main priorities for small business in Northern Ireland. She said: "At FSB we recognise the value of having a devolved, locally accountable Executive to make decisions for the people of Northern Ireland.
"However, given the present circumstances, and in order to provide certainty for the private sector and aid the delivery of public services, we are urging the Secretary of State to bring forward a budget as a matter of urgency.
"We have written to the Secretary of the State to outline the priorities of the small business sector in the next budget.
"Of the highest importance is the continuation of the small business rate relief scheme, which provides a modest but often vital reduction in a major cost to over 25,000 businesses in Northern Ireland.
"Removing this crucial relief would be the very definition of penny-wise and pound foolish, and would damage growth and risk jobs being lost, given that small businesses employ more people than all large businesses and the entire public sector combined."
If Ms Bradley does reveal a budget tomorrow, she may also reveal whether the government will move to cut MLAs' pay, following more than a year without devolution.