First Minister, Peter Robinson, described the devolution of Corporation Tax as a “key priority for the Executive to promote the growth of the local economy” during today’s Question Time. Devolving the power to Northern Ireland would provide the opportunity to reduce the Tax – a move that would encourage business in Northern Ireland as well as boost the chances of much-needed local and foreign investment. As part of the economic pact agreed last year, the UK Government committed to consider the devolution of Corporation Tax to Northern Ireland and a decision is expected by the start of December. The First Minister has had discussions with the Secretary of State and written to the Prime Minister in an effort to push the matter forward. Sammy Wilson expressed concern that some Parties’ refusal to enter debate on the budget would mean that, even if it is devolved, we wouldn’t be in a position to apply the desired reduction in the Tax. Mr Robinson echoed the sentiments saying that his fear is that the Treasury may withhold devolving the Tax power as they may be concerned that a certain level of fiscal management responsibility will not be met.
Junior Minister, Jonathan Bell, provided the House with an update on the delivery of Social Investment Fund projects. So far funding has been committed to 23 projects around the country totalling £34.4m. Pending the completion of final checks and the submission of letters of approval, it is anticipated that start dates will be announced shortly. Projects include a charity hub in the northern zone, a scheme for the long-term unemployed in the Londonderry zone and a community doctor’s surgery in the Belfast East zone. When pressed on whether the full £80m allocated for the Social Investment Fund would be honoured, Mr Bell said that “as far as I can be, I’m confident that the fund will be fully utilised”, pointing to a further 22 projects set for investment and the high number of viable projects in reserve should any of these fail to come to fruition.
During listed questions the First Minister also updated the Chamber on the potential usage of St Lucia Barracks in Omagh and the shared campuses as part of the ‘Together: Building a United Community’ programme. During topical questions the Minister provided updates on the current talks taking place regarding the future of the Assembly, welfare reform and the future of the Civil Service.