Govt support for Belfast City Deal a Budget highlight

Chancellor Philip Hammond appears to have struck a welcome note with most of the business community
Chancellor Philip Hammond appears to have struck a welcome note with most of the business community

The Government’s endorsement of the Belfast Region City Deal and the pledge of £2 million in assistance in the wake of the Primark were two highlights in a Budget that saw Northern Ireland benefit to the tune of £320m.

The city deal will bring £350m over the next 15 years, £100m less than had been bid for but enough to get the ambitious plan up and running.

Mr Hammond also indicated that the Government was prepared to look favourably on the Londonderry City Deal.

However, despite the £320 addition to the block grant, there was criticism from Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster at the failure to look at Air Passenger Duty or tourism VAT levels (see story right).

Nevertheless, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Ann McGregor said there was plenty to applaud.

“We particularly welcome the Chancellor’s Belfast Region City Deal and the £2m package for Belfast as a result of the Primark fire.

“These measures, along with other announcements including the digital catapult, £215m additional investment for UK innovation centres and e-passports, enabling more travellers to be processed more quickly, will be welcomed by businesses here.

“The increase in the Annual Investment Allowance to £1m for two years also gives firms a strong incentive to invest during the Brexit process. Ultimately it can help companies improve productivity, skills and competitiveness.”

Kirsty McManus, NI director of the Institute of Directors said: “The announcement of funding for the Belfast City Region Deal is to be wholeheartedly welcomed, as is progress on a similar deal for the Derry City and Strabane District Council area.

“The £350m announced for the Belfast City Region, when matched by local councils and other private funding is expected to give a much-needed economic boost of more than £800m to area.

“Confirmation that the deal can progress without a functioning Northern Ireland Executive provides welcome reassurance, given the significant number of key infrastructure projects within the region that may benefit from the City Deal.

“Meanwhile, the raising of the Annual Investment Allowance cap to £1m will provide businesses with a shot in the arm to support investment in a period of unprecedented uncertainty.”

“This is a measure the IoD has been calling for for several years, and it should now bring some much-needed confidence for firms to make plans to boost their productivity.”

Angela McGowan, CBI NI regional director, said: “While it’s clear that the Northern Irish economy continues to face many challenges, not least Brexit uncertainty and inadequate access to people and skills, today’s Budget does offer a further £320m for public expenditure and support for the Belfast City centre after the Primark fire.”

“While the Belfast City Deal represents a sizeable investment which should help to accelerate local economic development, create jobs and boost innovation in growth sectors, there will be some disappointment that it didn’t reach the £450m expected.

“Nonetheless, the government’s commitment should give confidence to other similar proposed City Deals in the North West which could play a big role in attracting investment and talent to Northern Ireland.”

Retail NI CEO Glyn Roberts said: “Retail NI broadly welcomes this Budget and we are pleased that our extensive engagement at Westminster with MPs and UK Government Ministers has successfully delivered results such as the £2m to deal with the Primark fire and the £650m Future High Streets Fund.”

(cont’d on page 19)