The impact of energy prices on local businesses was discussed during today’s Questions to Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster. The Minister described the recently announced reduction in tariffs as “good news for our small business consumers and means that, from April, prices will be lower than the EU 15 median, approximately 5% lower than the Great Britain average and around 19% lower than those in the Republic of Ireland.” Mrs Foster will also be attending a ‘Gas to the West’ information event which will provide up to 40,000 energy consumers, including businesses, with a more efficient, lower-carbon and potentially cheaper choice of fuel. Sammy Wilson was less enthusiastic about energy prices citing the high cost of expensive electricity from renewable resources on our grid as a burden on businesses, asking about the possibility of being permitted to generate cheaper electricity. The Minister revealed that she has had discussions with Westminster counterpart, Ed Davey, on the matter and admitted that “some very difficult decisions will have to be taken on that.”
Jim Allister then expressed concern about the potential devolution of corporation tax to the Assembly pointing to the Silk commission that concluded, in relation to devolving corporation tax powers to Wales, the "costs would outweigh the benefits". The Minister moved to ease any concerns saying that “unlike Northern Ireland, the Welsh have not had the same long public debate around the merits of devolving corporation tax, nor have they developed a plan to use such powers for a very clear economic development purpose. It is therefore unsurprising that the Silk commission concluded that income tax was more appropriate to devolve to the Welsh Government than other major UK taxes, including corporation tax. ” The case for reducing corporation tax in Northern Ireland is very different from that in Wales – a point acknowledged as much by the Silk Commission.
Mrs Foster also answered questions on tourism, power cut emergency procedures, broadband and economic inactivity plans.