Belfast Telegraph

Stormont corporation tax deal will be no quick fix

By John McCallister

We have driving tests for a reason. Prove you can drive responsibly and you get a licence. It's common sense. And it's the same common sense that Chancellor George Osborne has applied to the debate over corporation tax. If the Executive parties can show fiscal responsibility, then that power will be devolved.

I have long seen the potential of devolving corporation tax powers. Indeed, I would like to see other fiscal powers also devolved. If we want to see real change in the Northern Ireland economy, if we are genuinely committed to growing an enterprising private sector, we need a 'made in Northern Ireland' economic policy, not one suited to the south east of England.

That said, the idea of devolving corporation tax power to an Executive which couldn't even agree a budget for months on end and which is unable to understand the basic economic facts of life regarding welfare reform (we don't and can't pay for it, London does), fails the driving test standard - do you really want these people in charge of this?

The chance now exists to leave behind the politics of the playground and show the rest of the United Kingdom that Northern Ireland is capable of taking its place in the UK-wide debate over how devolved powers should be extended. It's also a time to be thinking about the need for real structural reform in Stormont, making sure that proper decision-making, which corporation tax powers would need, can happen - and that means a real Opposition to scrutinise, collective responsibility in the Executive, and a stronger Assembly able to hold ministers to account.

None of this means that corporation tax powers will be a quick fix. If the powers are devolved, we will have to balance the gains from it against reducing public expenditure. And consideration will have to be given to whether we view reduced corporation tax as primarily directed towards foreign direct investment or aimed at expanding and revitalising our smaller indigenous companies.

At least, however, these are real political debates - the sort that the people of Northern Ireland want to hear on the floor of the Assembly rather than what presently passes for debate.

  • John McCallister is an independent MLA for South Down

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