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Northern Ireland Economic Pact

Volume 583: debated on Thursday 3 July 2014

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I met yesterday with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to discuss the economic pact, “Building a prosperous and united community”.

We considered the progress that has been made by the Government and Northern Ireland Executive against our respective commitments made last June. We also agreed to publish a joint report, “Building a Prosperous and United Community—One Year On”, that highlights our successes as well considering the challenges ahead. I have placed a copy of this report in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government’s long-term economic plan is working for Northern Ireland. Figures published for the first time yesterday show that credit conditions are easing and many more businesses are accessing the funds they need to grow. The Green Investment Bank is also making investments in Northern Ireland providing a total of £3.2 million of funding.

The Government and the Executive working together have helped deliver a record year for investment advancing our shared aims to strengthen the private sector and rebalance the Northern Ireland economy. The international investment conference last October was hugely successful, contributing to the 11,000 jobs that Invest NI has promoted over the last year.

There has also been some progress in supporting initiatives designed to build a shared society. The Government made available an additional £100 million of borrowing and have now agreed to the Executive’s proposals to use this for improved facilities at integrated primary schools, a new further education college, and increased provision of shared housing. The Government have also identified 106 surplus Ministry of Defence homes that could be gifted to the Executive for use as additional shared housing if the Executive bring forward appropriate proposals. The update also sets out the latest position on the support the Government are giving to the Executive on further improving broadband infrastructure and mobile coverage in Northern Ireland.

This report confirms that the Government remain on track to make a final decision on the devolution of corporation tax no later than the 2014 autumn statement. Work has taken place to look at how the international tax regime might apply in an intra-country situation as well as how a regime might work for both smaller and larger companies.

There remain areas that require further work from both the Government and the Executive. The British-Irish visa scheme is due to begin in the autumn, encouraging tourism by allowing Indian and Chinese nationals to visit Northern Ireland using an Irish visit visa. This is part of the continuing programme of engagement set out at the annual UK-Ireland summits to boost trade and strengthen economic co-operation between the UK and Ireland.

There will also be further progress on the Executive’s red tape review, ambassador-led trade missions to Northern Ireland and continued efforts to improve access to finance.

The economic pact set out a new approach for the Government and the Executive to work more closely on our joint objectives. The report shows this approach can deliver better results for the people of Northern Ireland and we will continue to build on the good progress already made.