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Corporation Tax 'will be put on long finger again' ...and Scottish referendum is blamed

By Noel McAdam

The long-awaited decision devolving Corporation Tax powers to Northern Ireland looks like being long-fingered again, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has warned.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are due to meet Prime Minister David Cameron on the issue later this month – but no final decision is expected.

Mr Wilson, who may also attend the meeting at Downing Street in London on March 26, said yesterday he believed it could be "kicked into the long grass".

He said there were signs that ministers in the Coalition and Treasury officials are worried about the effect of devolving power to Northern Ireland on the Scots independence referendum.

The delay is despite a detailed Executive paper handed over to Mr Cameron when he visited Northern Ireland last November which set out how the scheme would be administered and dealt with some of the issues around how much the Executive could lose from the Block Grant.

Despite months of negotiations, however, Mr Wilson said yesterday no final figures have been agreed and added: "I don't know what is in the mind of David Cameron (but) it looks to me like it might be long-fingered."

There has been speculation that the gap between what Stormont wants to pay for Corporation Tax, and what the Treasury wants to charge the Executive, has not been sufficiently narrowed.

And earlier this year Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg revealed there was opposition in Westminster to devolving Corporation Tax because it might interfere with the anti-independence campaign.

The Lib Dem leader also admitted that supporters of the move have a powerful case because of the discrepancy in corporation tax rates south and north of the border. The rate sits at 12.5% in the Republic and 24% here.

Yesterday, DUP Minister Wilson added he also anticipated silence on the issue when Chancellor George Osborne delivers his latest Budget next Wednesday.

Mr Wilson said the economy is "not as bleak as some portray".

In a report he said: "I am certain that we face the future in a better position than we might have envisaged after the 2010 Spending Review. Our economy appears to be returning to growth and our public services budget has some degree of certainty looking towards 2015/ 16."

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