North needs more help from Westminster: Balls

The continued dithering over devolving corporation taxsetting powers to Stormont should not be used as an excuse to stall on more immediate measures to help the north’s struggling economy, a leading British politician said yesterday.

Because whether or not a corporation tax cut is ultimately the best way forward, businesses need help now, Ed Balls believes.

The British shadow chancellor, on his first formal visit to the north in that role, met senior politicians in Belfast yesterday before addressing a CBI dinner last night.

And later today he’ll be guest of honour at a business lunch in Newry marking the 120th anniversary of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Trade.

Speaking to The Irish News, Mr Balls said he believed Northern Ire-land’s economy deserves more help from Westminster than it is getting.

“Given the recession and the euro crisis in the south, along with the exposure of Northern Ireland to public sector cuts and the fact the region is coming out of the Troubles, the government at Westminster should be extra committed to helping you, rather than hitting you harder,” he said

“So it’s very frustrating that apart from the corporation tax issue there doesn’t seem to be proper dialogue about what more can be done to kick-start the recovery.

“The Tories say the issue of peace in Northern Ireland has been resolved and in a time of wider economic challenge it needs to let the Stormont executive get on with its job so that Cameron and Osborne can worry about other things.

“But we believe we are merely at the beginning of cementing this peace process and it’s more than important that we should engage with the executive to see what more needs to be done to secure prosperity.

“Northern Ireland needs more help right now, not less.”

Mr Balls, who was accompanied throughout his visit by shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker, says Labour has “promises to fulfil” which it made at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

“Our job here isn’t finished. We aren’t complacent about the work that still needs to be done, which is why the next Labour government will put securing Northern Ireland’s economic future at the top of our agenda,” he said

“We know the next stage in Northern Ireland’s development will be centred on the economy, and there are things other than corporation tax, which can be implemented straight away.

“We have our Plan B for jobs and growth in Northern Ireland. For in-stance, last week we urged the government to use the proceeds of the sale of the 4G mobile phone spectrum to build new homes and kick-start a construction-led recovery.

“Our plans would allocate £70 million to Northern Ireland over the next two years, and the executive could use those funds to build 3,000 new affordable homes and create tens of thousands of construction jobs.

“We would enable the executive to bring forward long-term investment projects to get people back to work and strengthen our economy for the future.

“After shedding 5,000 jobs in the last two years Northern Ireland’s construction industry needs that help.

“We would also give a one-year national insurance tax break to every small firm that takes on extra workers, helping to create jobs and grow local businesses.

“We are urging the government to reverse its damaging VAT rise for a temporary period to give immediate help to high streets and struggling families and pensioners.”

Mr Balls also believes the Tories should levy a £2 billion tax on bank bonuses to fund a real jobs guarantee that could help 2,000 young people in Northern Ireland back to work.

“These are things that could be done right now to get people working and paying taxes and help get the deficit down and skill up our young people.

“I hope the government acts, but fear it will continue to bury its head in the sand,” he said.