There was a widespread welcome and a little relief from the business community as initial details of the Northern Ireland Budget emerged as the construction and small business sectors offered their assessment.
After months of warnings and calls for action, John Armstrong of the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) said detail and clarity were now key.
“Today’s statement is welcome, in a sense, as it finally gives clarity to civil servants to allow them to prepare for the new financial year which is a matter of weeks away.
“Additionally, it is welcome to see the Secretary of State give certainty as to the release of the first tranche of Conservative-DUP deal infrastructure funds from April. At a time of increased sustainability challenge for many local construction firms, the finance from the Confidence and Supply Deal will be a hugely welcome boost to the local industry and the tens of thousands of people employed within it.”
However, Mr Armstrong said that while the money was now available, he said it was vital that its benefits be felt across the industry.
“We now need urgent clarity on how the funds allocated by the Secretary of State today are to be spent by the various Government Departments,” he said.
“As we have said before, the industry had significant concerns with the proposed allocations announced in December’s Budgetary Outlook document. It very clearly detailed the challenges presented because of the huge investment going into the Northern Ireland Executive’s Flagship projects over the next three years even though the overall Capital budget is going up.
“Unquestionably, the Executive’s Flagship schemes stand on their very clear economic merits. However a balance must be struck in budgetary planning between how much resource is spent on these and other areas, such as roads maintenance and our education estate, so to avoid a massive cliff edge for the vast majority of firms not engaged on the Flagship projects.”
Representing small businesses,FSB policy chair Tina McKenzie said the continuation of the Small Business Rate Relief and no above inflation increase in the non-domestic regional rate were critical.
“This will bring relief to Northern Ireland’s hard pressed small business owners, who face persistent political and economic uncertainty.
“FSB has been lobbying intensively on this issue over many months and we are encouraged that the Secretary of State has recognised the need to support the small business sector.”
From the retail sector, Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said he was pleased that the NIO had taken on board its concerns over the ending of the relief scheme and a rise in rates.
“If both of these had have been included in this Budget, we would have seen members, who struggle to pay their existing rates bill, closing their businesses”
“By no means is this the best way to set a Budget,” he added
‘We need to see local, accountable and elected Ministers making the key decisions. Northern Ireland deserves more than ‘care and maintence’ administration and emergency budgets”
“We would urge the local political parties to get back to the talks table and hammer out an agreement”