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Stormont minister Conor Murphy dismayed at Budget's £210m for Northern Ireland services


Chancellor Rishi Sunak at 11 Downing Street before delivering his Budget

Chancellor Rishi Sunak at 11 Downing Street before delivering his Budget


Chancellor Rishi Sunak at 11 Downing Street before delivering his Budget

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has said a sum of more than £210m from the Chancellor's Budget falls short of what is needed for first-class public services at home.

Rishi Sunak's first Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer also brought £12bn for UK-wide measures to help cope with coronavirus.

The Treasury is establishing a presence in Wales and Northern Ireland, in addition to its existing presence in Scotland.

Coronavirus mechanisms include statutory sick pay (SSP) refunds for 14 days to firms that have had to pay SSP to staff unwell or in quarantine.

Firms can also be given extra time to pay HMRC and there will be a new business interruption loan scheme.

Separately, investment in research and development by the Government is to grow to £22bn by 2024-25, a greater level than a party manifesto promise to increase it to £18bn.

Research and Development Expenditure Credit was also raised from 12% to 13%, which the Chancellor said was worth £2,400 on a typical R&D claim.

Craig Harrison, tax director at PwC in Northern Ireland, said it was clear the Chancellor planned to "do whatever it takes" to support the economy from the impact of coronavirus.

But it is not clear whether a one-year business rates holiday, one of the biggest prizes for small businesses in England, will apply here.

However, other pledges do apply, such as a freeze in duty on fuel, wine, beer and spirits.

Local firms will also continue to be taxed at a main corporate tax rate of 19%, after a planned cut to 17% was abandoned.

Reports ahead of the Budget suggested Entrepreneurs Relief would be done away with, but instead the maximum lifetime limit on gains was cut from £10m to £1m.

The Ulster Farmers' Union welcomed its sector's exemption from another pledge, the abolition of relief on red diesel duty.

President Ivor Ferguson said: "The lower fuel duty recognises how much of a necessity red diesel is for the agriculture industry and the Government's decision to maintain it will enable our farmers to continue producing high-quality produce."

The Chancellor announced over £210m for Northern Ireland on top of the block grant.

Northern Ireland's Finance Department later explained the extra funding for amounted to £77m of resource funding and £138m of capital.

In addition, £126m of funding was announced for a Mid, South and West of Northern Ireland Growth Deal and £36m for a growth deal in Causeway Coast and Glens.

But Mr Murphy said the sums of £77m and £138m were not enough. "Before this Budget was announced the gap between inescapable pressures identified by departments and the budget available to us was nearly £600m. We are also dealing with the emerging challenges of coronavirus, which will have a profound impact on people and the economy," he said.

He also said the business rates holiday for small businesses in England would be studied in detail "before deciding how the Executive can best support small businesses here".

Mr Murphy added: "With finite resources and infinite demands, myself and ministerial colleagues will take a collective approach to prioritisation, making the best possible use of the available resources. We will now move forward and put in place a budget by the end of March."

Rain Newton Smith, CBI chief economist, welcomed the news of more than £210m in additional funding.

"However, public expenditure uplifts from this Budget cannot meet the huge funding deficit challenge in Northern Ireland," she said. "The Government's support outlined in the Budget for businesses impacted by Covid-19 is very welcome and we hope to see the Northern Ireland Executive take equivalent actions for local firms, especially around business rates support measures.

"As we face huge challenges, from climate change to Covid-19, we need to do whatever we can to level up Northern Ireland and make sure it remains a great place to live, work and do business in."

Dawn McLaughlin, vice-president of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, said the business rates holiday should be applied here.

"Business rates can be crippling for many of our members and we must see this move replicated here," she said.

"We have an economy which is composed of over 90% small businesses, so measures like the business rates holiday would allow small businesses to breathe financially and would provide at least some relief in these very uncertain times."

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said it was regrettable that the Budget made no provision for the abolition of air passenger duty.

"That is especially important since the closure of Flybe. There remains a need for connectivity from Belfast to the rest of the UK. It is essential in today's global marketplace," he added.

But he welcomed a low-key commitment giving traders the ability to defer accounting on import VAT on goods imported from the EU and beyond following Brexit.

"This means firms do not have to make any upfront payment at the border as the goods cross or suffer detriment on cashflow. This is both significant and welcome," he said.

However, he said businesses now needed more detail on how the protocol governing trade relationships with Great Britain following Brexit would work in practice.

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