£136m boost to block grant a shot in the arm for Northern Ireland economy

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers his Autumn Statement to MPs in the House of Commons.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers his Autumn Statement to MPs in the House of Commons.

Pensioners, motorists, married couples and businesses are all set to benefit from Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement.

As well as a series of measures designed to ease the burden on individuals, the Chancellor also earmarked an additional £136 million in Northern Ireland’s block grant in a bid to boost public services.

That sum will be delivered over the next two years and was welcomed by Finance Minister Simon Hamilton.

“This Autumn Statement has many positives for Northern Ireland, not least the £136million increase in the Northern Ireland Executive’s budget over the next two years,” he said.

Among the specific decisions taken by the Chancellor is an increase of £2.95 per week in the state pension from April 2014, the cancellation of next year’s planned fuel duty rise, a married couple’s tax allowance set to benefit some 130,000 couples here, and the abolition of National Insurance contributions for those aged under 21, which could, he said, save local businesses up to £10 million.

Mr Hamilton also noted the additional support for businesses in England through the business rates system and in particular a £1,000 discount for local retailers.

“The Executive has already done much to support our businesses through the rating system,” he said.

“By way of comparison since 2011-12 the Northern Ireland non-domestic regional rate has increased by just 4.9 per cent compared to an increase of 8.7 per cent in the Uniform Business Rate in England.

“However, I am always prepared to look at new measures to support our businesses and I will consider the merits of the new initiatives in England once I have more clarity on how it will operate.”

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said that while recovery in Northern Ireland was under way, it was not as pronounced as in the rest of the UK.

“We recognise that we need to make extra efforts in Northern Ireland,” she said.

Ms Villiers said Northern Ireland would see the direct benefit of other measures announced by the Chancellor, like cancelling a rise in fuel duty for motorists.

At Danske Bank in Belfast chief economist Angela McGowan said it was clear the Chancellor’s optimism was rising.

“Finally, after three years of delivering bad news he announced that Britain’s economic plan is ‘finally working’ – even if his earlier central promise of ‘balancing the books by 2015’ had to be pushed out to 2018,” she said.

“The Chancellor presented a number of very optimistic forecasts from the Office of Budget Responsibility, which included a budget surplus for the UK by 2018/19 and the creation of 3.1 million new private sector jobs by 2019.”

In the meantime she said there was little of real substance to make daily life significantly better for most people.

“In general prices within the economy are forecast to rise by 2.1 per cent on average during 2014 and with wages rising at only 0.9 per cent on average, it is fair to conclude that the Chancellor has not made substantial progress around bringing down the cost of living for households,” she said.

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce President, Mark Nodder, said there were two key issues for the Executive to address.

“The Chancellor’s rates freeze will be welcomed in England but as control over Northern Ireland business rates lies with the NI Executive, our own businesses need reassurance that this cost won’t rise here too.

“We also eagerly await the Executive’s response to the block grant boost of £136m.”




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