Minister of Finance – NI Assembly Questions

MAY 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 10940/22-2726/04/24Mr Justin McNulty (SDLP – Newry and Armagh)To ask the Minister of Finance to detail the financial support available to businesses struggling to pay their rates’ bill.

Answer 08/05/24
Support is provided to 75% of non-domestic ratepayers, who get help with their rates bills through annual policy interventions, costing in the region of almost £250m per annum.The support provided includes the Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) Scheme, recently extended by my Department to provide £21.5m of assistance to almost 30,000 small businesses receiving a reduction of between 20% to 50% on their 2024/25 rate bill. The Executive is also providing support in 2024/25 through Industrial Derating for over 4,400 local manufacturing properties at a cost of £71.5m, a measure which isn’t provided in England, Scotland or Wales.

Other support provision includes Freight Transport Relief, Sport and Recreation Relief, Community Amateur Sports Club Relief, Non-domestic Vacant Rating relief, Residential Care relief, Halls of Residence exemption, and Hardship Relief for those in exceptional circumstances. The range of support provided is detailed in full, along with the eligibility criteria, on the nibusinessinfo.com website.If any business is struggling to pay their rates bill they should contact Land & Property Services at the earliest opportunity to arrange a payment plan.
AQO 391/22-2727/04/24Mr Jonathan Buckley (DUP – Upper Bann)To ask the Minister of Finance for an update on the progress of funding initiatives as part of the City and Growth Deals.

Answer 07/05/24
There has been significant progress across the four City and Growth Deals. Positive milestones have already been achieved this year, with more to come.The Belfast Region City Deal is in delivery phase. Legally binding Contracts for Funding have been signed for nine projects, with a further six due in the coming months. Planning permission has already been granted for some projects and construction has started on the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Newtownabbey.

The Derry City and Strabane District Council City Deal is preparing for Deal signing in summer 2024.

The Causeway Coast and Glens Growth Deal signed Heads of Terms last week, and it will now begin work on Outline Business Cases to progress towards Deal signing.The Mid South West Growth Deal is working toward signing Heads of Terms in autumn 2024.
To date, £9.1 million has been drawn down, with an anticipated spend of £56.8 million in the 2024-25 financial year. This includes City Deal funding from both the Executive and the British Government, as well as Inclusive Future Fund and Complementary Fund.
AQO 388/22-2707/05/24Mr Declan McAleer
(SF – West Tyrone)
To ask the Minister of Finance to provide an update on the implementation of City and Growth Deals.

Answer 07/05/24
There has been significant progress across the four city and growth deals. Positive milestones have been achieved this year already, with more to come. The Belfast region city deal is in delivery phase.

Legally binding contracts for funding have been signed for nine projects, with a further six due in coming months. Planning permission has already been granted for some projects, and construction has started on the advanced manufacturing innovation centre in Newtownabbey.

The Derry City and Strabane District Council city deal is preparing for deal-signing in summer 2024; the Causeway Coast and Glens growth deal signed heads of terms last week, and will begin work on outline business cases to progress towards deal-signing; and the Mid South West growth deal is working towards the signing of heads of terms in autumn 2024.

APRIL 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 10440/22-2718/04/24Ms Sian Mulholland (APNI – North Antrim)To ask the Minister of Finance for a breakdown of visitor numbers to all tourism sites associated with violence of a political nature, to include (i) the Maze Prison; (ii) the Crumlin Road Gaol; (iii) walking tours; (iv) black taxi tours; and (v) the Museum of Free Derry, in the last ten years.

Answer 30/04/24
The most recent NISRA Visitor Attraction Survey results are available at Visitor Attraction Survey 2022. The survey is a voluntary, annual survey.

Of the named visitor attractions cited in the question, the Museum of Free Derry is the only site that has responded in the years 2013-2022.
AQW 10526/22-2719/04/24Mr John Stewart (UUP – East Antrim)To ask the Minister of Finance what consideration has been given to extend the provisions of the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme to replicate the business rates relief scheme in England.

Answer 29/04/24
My Department has already extended the period for Small Business Rate Relief for the 2024/25 rating year, which will be delivering £21.5m of rate support to 29,000 ratepayers with them receiving a reduction of between 20% and 50% on their rate bill.There is a cost in replicating the scheme in England within the confines of our very different taxbase.

Scotland have not adopted the English policy position, and likewise Wales who initially matched the provision found this unaffordable and reduced support to 40% for 2024/25. Rates are a devolved matter, and it is up to the Executive to align support to local needs and its priorities in Government. Every pound spent on additional rate relief is either deducted from the amount available for public spending or is paid for by increased bills for other ratepayers. We also have our own generous support schemes for other sectors of the economy that are not available in England, Scotland or Wales such as Industrial Derating which provides over £71.5m of support to 4,400 local manufacturers.
Urgent question29/04/24Eoin Tennyson (APN, Upper Bann)Mr Tennyson asked the Minister of Finance for an update on the Executive’s agreement on a Budget for 2024-25.

Answer 29/04/24
We have all been clear from the outset that this was going to be an incredibly challenging Budget. Demand far outstripped the funding available many times over. For every £1 that we had to spend on day-to-day funding for public services we had three times as many demands. Similarly, for every £1 that we had to spend on capital, including money for hospitals, schools and roads, we had one and a half times as many demands. The full answer can be found at the link above.
AQW 10126/22-2715/04/24Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister of Finance (i) whether she plans to review the business rates system; and (ii) for her assessment of the impact increased business rates are having on small businesses.

Answer 22/04/24
(i) The rates system and rate reliefs have been subject to public consultation, review, reform and revision in 2007, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2019 and most recently this year. A number of changes have already been implemented from these reviews including more frequent revaluations which helps ensure stability and fairness in the tax system, and a 12.5% reduction in the 2020/21 regional rate poundage. I recently advised the Assembly that I want to strategically align the rating system here with the Executive’s priorities for Government.
Rates are our only devolved tax, contributing £1.5bn to public services, and so it makes sense for it to align with Executive strategy. As a devolved tax it is currently our only substantive revenue raising lever raising vital funds for public services.(ii) In terms of the impact of rates on small businesses, my Department renewed the legislation for Small Business Rate Relief which will provide £21.5 million of support to 29,000 businesses for 2024/25, providing automatic bill reductions of between 20% to 50% depending on a property’s valuation level.

The Executive has also held its annual rate increase for businesses at the rate of inflation and my Department has made and laid legislation for Assembly debate on the restoration of the Back in Business and Rural ATM schemes to further support businesses.

While my Department has no control over district council poundages, I have approved sponsorship of research by the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre on the economic impacts of differential rate poundages set by district councils here, which was initiated following concerns that high district rate poundages in some areas may risk displacement or other adverse impacts.I also know from speaking to businesses and trade bodies here that there are many wider problems facing them including energy costs, food price inflation, VAT, skills shortages, squeezes on household budgets.
AQW 9201/22-2718/04/24Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister of Finance whether he intends to commence the powers to set Corporation Tax funding as provided for in the Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Act 2015.

Answer 19/04/24
My department does not have the authority to commence the powers to set the rate of Corporation Tax, as provided for in the Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Act 2015. The responsibility for this rests with the British Treasury.Rather, I intend bringing a paper to the Executive in due course to seek to agree our approach to tax devolution more broadly. However, I am clear that the devolution of Corporation Tax could only occur if it were affordable, and worthwhile if it ensures that ordinary citizens benefit through the creation of sustainable, well-paying jobs and if it furthers economic development.
AQW 8714/22-2712/03/24Ms Claire Sugden (IND – East Londonderry)To ask the Minister of Finance for her assessment of (i) the changes in the recent budget regarding the scrapping of tax incentives for owners of holiday lets; and (ii) how this could impact the north coast area.

Answer 10/04/24
My department has not undertaken an assessment of these changes. That would be a matter for the British Treasury, which is responsible for taxation and the removal of this relief, and the Department for the Economy, which has local policy responsibility for tourism.
AQO 234/22-2709/04/24Mr Harry Harvey (DUP – Strangford)To ask the Minister of Finance what assessment has been made of the impact of the Back in Business rate support scheme.

Answer 09/04/24
When the back in business scheme was last in place, during 2022-23, 101 businesses, the majority of which were small, independent retailers, benefited from support in the form of a 50% rate reduction. That helped businesses to get started, supported jobs and got long-term vacant units back into use.

Given the positive impact that the back in business scheme had, I am glad to advise that legislation will be made later this month to restore the scheme, and that will allow for debate at the Assembly. The Committee has cleared the relevant policy stage associated with the measure. Reinstating that popular scheme is more important now than ever before, as it will allow new businesses to emerge and will grow our tax base.

MARCH 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 8311/22-2706/03/24Mr Eóin Tennyson (APNI – Upper Bann)To ask the Minister of Finance, in light of the increase in the rate of Air Passenger Duty announced by the UK government, to detail the resulting cost to the Executive’s budget.

Answer 14/03/24
The changes announced at Spring Budget 2024 to Air Passenger Duty (APD) will not have a direct impact on the adjustment that is made to the Executive’s budget in relation to the devolution of direct long haul APD rate setting powers.

This adjustment is linked to the overall growth in long-haul passenger numbers departing airports across Britain and the North, not rates or revenues.

The reduction to the Block Grant for 2024-25 remains £2.445m. Future adjustments will be determined at the next Spending Review.
AQW 7641/22-2727/02/24Ms Connie Egan (APNI – North Down)To ask the Minister of Finance whether he has made deputations to HM Treasury regarding reducing the VAT rate for hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland, given the increase in running costs.

Answer 06/03/24VAT is an Excepted Matter and responsibility for any reduction in VAT is an issue for the British Treasury to decide upon.

Over recent years, my Department has repeatedly raised with the British Treasury, the negative impact the higher level of VAT on tourism & hospitality is having locally compared to the lower rate that applies in the South. My officials continue to highlight the adverse impacts of the taxation system locally in their regular meetings with Treasury counterparts.

At our first meeting, I pressed the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that a new Fiscal Framework, which provides funding based on need and a basis for increased fiscal powers for the Executive, should be an immediate priority. This will better enable the Executive to sustainably fund public services and provide support for both citizens and businesses during the ongoing cost of living / business crisis.