Tue 12th Jan 2016
Jan 2016: 2016/17 budget must be a foundation for a longer term budgetary process
Stephen McCully, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Just before Christmas the now former Finance Minister Arlene Foster published a one year 2016/17 budget which was wrapped up with and bound to the Fresh Start political deal.
A one year budget is far from ideal and especially so when it contains infrastructure allocations such as the A5 and A6 dual carriageways which are likely to take up to 5 years to complete.
However, this may be one of those occasions where the fact that a budget has been agreed at all, and with relatively little controversy or indeed fanfare – is to be welcomed. Let us hope that whatever Executive emerges after the May elections, it uses the 2016/17 budget as a foundation for a longer term budgetary process.
There are a number of reasons why this is important. The prize of devolved and reduced corporation tax remains dependent on the Treasury being convinced that the Executive has our finances on a sustainable and long term footing.
Let’s be confident though and start planning now for a reduced tax. The anticipated increase in Foreign Direct Investment will require new skills, and a flow of employees. In this regard the December 2015 budget is flawed; instead of the new Department of the Economy receiving a cut it should have the resources required to support the development of the workforce as necessary. This should be addressed through in-year Monitoring Rounds and as part of a longer term budget post May.
One of the exciting elements of the Budget is the modest allocation set against the NI Investment Fund. That is a signal that the Fund will become a reality and that should lead to a further support model for our SMEs, one which can be built on.
Arlene Foster said last month “the one-year budget will give new departments and new ministers a stable, balanced platform to determine priorities and funding allocations post the May election for a multi-year budget from 2017-18 to 2019-20.”
That platform and associated stability is both significant and welcome. As Arlene Foster moves on from her DFP post and into the First Minister’s chair, we wish her well and indeed at NI Chamber we hope that multi-year budget becomes a reality in the months ahead.