10/12/2009

Budget Report Strikes Different Notes

While the NIO Secretary of State Shaun Woodward has welcomed yesterday's Pre Budget Report from Chancellor Alistair Darling, not everyone is quite so upbeat.

The Secretary of State said: 'This Pre Budget Report is good for Northern Ireland.

"While these are challenging times, the government is determined to give real and practical help to families and businesses in Northern Ireland as we secure recovery, accelerate growth, and create jobs.

"Northern Ireland will benefit from this Pre Budget report by an additional £28m over the next two years," he claimed.

"For business, the Finance Guarantee Scheme will be extended for a further six months and over 5,840 agreements have been made through the Business Payment Support Service to enable NI businesses to spread their tax payments over a timetable they can afford," he continued.

"For families, we shall support individuals by increasing the ISA annual investment limits and extend the stamp duty holiday on all houses costing up to £175,000 until the end of the year," he said, also noting that the announcements would not affect the settlement agreed with the parties which will be available should Assembly ask for the devolution of policing and justice powers.

Meanwhile, the Stormont Finance Minister was cautiously welcoming and said he is relieved that the Treasury is not going to cut the block grant they give to the Northern Ireland Executive.

It had been widely suggested that the Chancellor would use Wednesday's report to cut the amount of money allocated for devolution in NI, but the Chancellor also confirmed in his report that NI is to get an extra £28m.
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NI Finance Minister Sammy Wilson (pictured) said that in fact, "most of the measures" announced would have "little impact" on the people of Northern Ireland.

Around £8m is to be given to Stormont departments and the rest will be spent centrally on additional state benefits.

"Although some were disappointing, including the increase in National Insurance contributions from 2011-12, it was largely inevitable that only a small number of significant announcements would be made at this time given the state of public finances and the proximity to the general election," he added.

South of the border, the Dáil will today debate cuts in social welfare rates when it discusses legislation to enable measures outlined in yesterday's full Irish Budget.

It saw public servants and social welfare recipients being hit by €4 billion in spending cuts announced by Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan.

Reaction has been largely negative with the Opposition claiming the Budget was not 'fair' and public service unions threatening further unrest.

However, speaking this morning in defence of the Budget, Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin said the cuts in social welfare would not have a severe impact - as the increases in last year's budget still existed.

NI retailers will look with interest at efforts to curb cross-border shopping which saw Mr Lenihan reduce excise duty on alcohol by 12 cent on a pint of beer, 14 cent on a glass of spirits and 60 cent on a bottle of wine.

He also announced a reversal of the half per cent increase in VAT imposed in his first budget last year.

See: Pre-Budget Report Brings NI Rise

See: Budget's Construction Cuts Are 'A Blow': CIF

(BMcC/KMcA)

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