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Leaders encouraged by PM's response to case for devolution

By Sam Lister

The Prime Minister and Chancellor are now giving serious consideration to devolving control of Northern Ireland's rate of corporation tax, political leaders have claimed.

At meetings in Downing Street yesterday, the First and Deputy First Minister pushed the case for the cut and stated that they were "encouraged" that it was a matter "now being taken seriously" by the Treasury.

David Cameron will meet with the leaders again today, on his first visit to Northern Ireland since taking power last year, and the pair pledged to "tease out further" the issues raised yesterday.

Mr Cameron is expected to address the Assembly and meet the First and Deputy First Minister privately.

Speaking outside No 10 yesterday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "We have waited a year for the Prime Minister to come along and now he's coming along twice in two days.

"When you consider that Peter Robinson and I have been in the Oval office with President Obama, it's not too much to expect that the British Prime Minister could make himself much more available."

Earlier, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness met business leaders along with the Treasury. It was part of the Treasury's consultation on whether the Assembly should be given the power to reduce corporation tax.

Mr McGuinness said: "The amount of work that was accomplished leaves us in a position were we can have some considerable degree of confidence that the processing of the lowering of corporation tax is something that is being taken very seriously and something the Treasury is now engaging in.

"We have expressed our reservations, in the past, about the role of the Treasury, but I think that the thing has now progressed further."

Leaders from each of the devolved administrations attended a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) at No 10, chaired by the Prime Minister, yesterday to press shared and individual priorities.

During the meeting, the Prime Minister was threatened with formal dispute proceedings over funding changes that have left a deficit of £316m in Stormont's coffers.

All devolved administrations have been hit by changes to the end-year flexibility (EYF) system, which allows them to carry forward unspent budget provisions into future years to discourage wasteful end-year spending.

The Government believes it "led to accumulated stocks that would further increase the deficit if they were spent" so has axed it.

As part of the JMC, described as "important and progressive", leaders agreed changes to the rules over dispute resolution that mean an independent third party will now be brought in to adjudicate over any unresolved disagreements. Its decision will be binding.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Mr McGuinness indicated to Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that they will enact that procedure if an outcome is not found in the next two months.

Mr Robinson said: "Most focus was on the economy, dealing with issues such as the removal of our end of year flexibility, which cost £316m to the Northern Ireland finance department.

"We have indicated if that matter cannot be resolved we intend to take it through the new disputes procedure - which we agreed today."

Belfast Telegraph


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