Budget statement receives a mixed reaction in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is set to receive an extra £210 million in the latest Budget announced today.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak also announced a £30 billion package of measures aimed at tackling the impact of coronavirus.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis described it as a “massive further investment and an outline of the monies coming into the growth deal and city deals … as well as money for broadband infrastructure improvements”.

The Budget statement has received a mixed response so far in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken welcomed the cut in interest rates announced by the Bank of England, but expressed disappointment that Air Passenger Duty has not been abolished for Northern Ireland flights.

“It is evident that the twin challenges of Covid-19 and the increased economic uncertainty in shaping our future trading relationship with the EU that the Government has decided to release fiscal constraints – and for that we should all be supportive,” he said.

“For our Executive there are real choices to be made; however, first and foremost, those mitigation measures to deal with Covid-19 must be passed on in full to our NHS, our small businesses and our hospitality sector.

“It is now up to the Northern Ireland Executive to respond sensibly, to ditch ‘pet’ projects and to use this opportunity to invest for all of our futures – this chance may not come again.”

Alliance MP Stephen Farry claimed the Budget is “not grounded in reality and had little to address the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland”.

“Overall this is a populist Budget, and not one grounded in reality. It is of course right and necessary the Government uses its fiscal tools to help manage the health, social and economic consequences of managing coronavirus,” he said.

“The looming economic shock masks the even deeper financial and other consequences flowing from Brexit, which will slow economic growth and pass on needless extra costs and red tape to business.

“There is little to address the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, with nothing on Air Passenger Duty in response our connectivity challenge.

“There was nothing to assist local companies to prepare for compliance with the Northern Ireland Protocol, and most disappointingly, there is only £210 million of new Barnett consequentials for the Executive.”

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, welcomed rates relief for small business, but added the Budget overall “will not deliver the stimulus that Northern Ireland’s economy and our unique circumstances need”.

“No reference was made to recent calls for the suspension of Air Passenger Duty, which could prove vital for securing Northern Ireland’s connectivity with other major cities,” she said.

“And on Brexit, there was also no indication of measures to help businesses here prepare for the Northern Ireland protocol.

“It is now vital that local firms are supported in the forthcoming Northern Ireland Budget.”

Federation of Small Businesses NI policy chair Tina McKenzie also welcomed steps to boost confidence and help small businesses face the impact of coronavirus, but she stressed it is vital that NI firms are also supported in the forthcoming Northern Ireland Budget.

“The range of measures to support SMEs in light of the coronavirus will bring some relief to firms in what will be a very difficult period for many. We are already seeing businesses impacted by reduced footfall and supply chain issues, so it is vital they get all the support possible,” she said.

“Focus now turns to Stormont, where the restored Executive must now rise to the challenge to support small businesses when they need it most.”

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts welcomed proposals to support small traders around coronavirus.

“We also hope the reduction of interest rates will help boost our economy and promote increased consumer spending from those applicable mortgage holders,” he said.

“The freeze in fuel duty and the £210 million increase in spending for the Northern Ireland Executive is also good news.”