23/06/2010

Wilson Calls For 'Responsible Spending'

A lot of pain, and little gain for NI is being anticipated from the Chancellor's emergency Budget yesterday.

Stormont Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, said Northern Ireland would have to find substantial savings over the next four years.

Commenting on the news that George Osborne ruled that government departmental spending would be cut by 25% from October, Mr Wilson said he remains confident that the NI Executive can make the savings.

"We reallocated £370m in the budget for this year, we're probably going to have to do the equivalent of that for the next four years," he said.

"That means that parties really have to face up to the responsibilities and to be truthful we owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that we use the money that is available to us in a responsible manner."

Also commenting, the NI Secretary Owen Paterson said, "this is an unavoidable budget".

Blaming Labour, he said, "as a result of the economic mess we have inherited, the UK Government is currently borrowing £300,000 a minute".

He said today that the measures he has announced will ensure that by the end of the Parliament the Government will have eliminated the deficit and will be re-paying debt.

"We are all paying the bills of past irresponsibility to lay the foundations for our future economic prosperity," the NIO boss fumed.

However, he also claimed that businesses across Northern Ireland will benefit from the reductions in corporation tax for the UK as a whole.

"The Chancellor's introduction of an employer National Insurance holiday for the first ten employees of any new business should assist over 15,000 local firms.

"Reversing the previous administration's proposed jobs tax will benefit the economy and will also save around £80m.
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"The Enterprise Guarantee Scheme - which has already helped 133 businesses in NI and resulted in £19.7m of loan offers - will be significantly increased," he continued, noting that, working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive "we will publish a consultation paper in the autumn that will look at mechanisms for giving NI a different rate of corporation tax and other economic reform options".

He also hailed extra support for those most in need: "That's why there will be an additional £2bn per annum increase in the child element of the child tax credit."

Meanwhile, the four-year freeze on Inheritance Tax allowance actually represents a major tax increase in real terms on thousands of families in Northern Ireland.

Describing the move as a 'stealth tax', local independent financial advisor Stephen Hill said that the move would seriously impact on the money passed from family members.

He believes that the freeze on the nil rate band, first mooted in the emergency March budget, has slipped under the radar and that local people here do not fully appreciate the potential impact.

"This freeze is tantamount to a huge increase in inheritance tax," said Mr Hill, of S Hill & Co Investment Advisors.

Others are even less impressed with yesterday's news. Andrew Dougal, Chief Executive NI Chest Heart & Stroke said: "We had hoped that the Chancellor would yesterday announce an increase of 25p per packet for each of the five years of this Parliament.

"That would ensure that the total cost of a packet of cigarettes would be £7.42.

"Such a prospect would help galvanize those who were keen to quit the habit. Small incremental increases will not persuade people to make the huge effort to become free from the addiction of nicotine," the charity boss insisted.

"It is important that in these very austere times the Chancellor takes advantage of a situation where people's incomes are being reduced which is another factor in motivating them to quit the very expensive smoking habit."

The Ulster Cancer Foundation also believes the Chancellor has missed a great opportunity to increase duty on tobacco above inflation.

"Had he done so he would have reduced smoking especially in young people," said a spokesperson.

"This measure would have been popular with the public and provided substantial funding which could have supported smoking prevention and cessation services in local communities."

(BMcC/GK)

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