‘Get Corporation Tax’ New Minister Urged

The north’s new enterprise minister was urged last night to “get corporation tax” as a matter of priority. Strangford MLA Jonathan Bell (45), previously a junior minister at Stormont, was elevated to the top post in the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment as part of a DUP re-shuffle – and he’ll have an overflowing in-tray this morning.

He replaces Arlene Foster, who had been in the role for nearly seven years and who has been transferred to the finance department to replace Simon Hamilton (he’s gone to health).

Foster has been widely tipped to eventually replace Peter Robinson as first minister (for whom she briefly stood in when he was having legal and domestic problems in early 2010).

But when challenged by The Irish News she would only say: “There’s no vacancy.”

Mr Bell – who failed to oust Alistair McDonnell in South Belfast in last week’s Westminster vote – said he was looking forward to building on the excellent work of his predecessor in a diverse portfolio covering the wider economy, energy, telecoms and tourism.

He’ll also now be at the forefront of change as Deti starts preparations to merge with the Department for Employment & Learning to create a powerhouse Department of the Economy next year.

The Queen’s University psychology graduate entered politics as a member of the UUP in 1997 and served terms as deputy mayor and then mayor on Craigavon Council.

But he quit the party in 2000 and moved to the DUP, citing his dissatisfaction with David Trimble.

He then filled the seat at Stormont vacated by Iris Robinson, and has been junior minister since January 2010.

He was caught up in controversy recently when forced into an embarrassing climb-down after veteran former South Belfast MP the Rev Martin Smyth accused him of “pulling a fast one” over a claim that he had signed Mr Bell’s nomination papers for the election scrap.

Mr Bell, who lives in Donaghadee, has strong links and interests in China, which may dovetail nicely in his new role (China recently overtook the US as the world’s largest economy and Invest NI has organised several trade missions to the region).

He has made a number of trips to the country, including to the Confucius Institute, which has an offshoot at Ulster University, opened in 2011 to help develop academic, cultural, economic and social ties between the two countries.

Indeed Mr Bell is the honorary Professor of Media and Communication at the Zheijang University in China.

According to the register of interests at Stormont, he also employs Peter Robinson’s son as his constituency manager and the first minister’s daughter-in-law as a part-time secretary.

Speaking on his appointment yesterday, Mr Bell said: “This is a time of great potential for Northern Ireland and it’s important this potential continues to be given every opportunity to be fulfilled to the maximum.

“Great progress has already been made in terms of job creation and attracting foreign direct investment, and I expect Invest NI‘s end-of-year figures will be further proof of that when they are published next week.”

“Northern Ireland’s tourism product has never been in a stronger position. We have become known on the world stage as the home of major events and, with the unmissable Irish Open due to take place in two weeks’ time, we will once again be in the international media spotlight for all the right reasons.”

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which boasts a membership of 1,200 businesses representing more than 100,000 employees, says the new senior DUP ministerial team can work well for the region’s economy.

Its chief executive Ann McGregor said: “Arlene Foster, who has move to the Department for Finance and Personnel, is well briefed on the business sector’s priorities for the local budget, in particular the need to focus on corporation tax as well as investment in skills and infrastructure.

“Minister Foster was very strong in DETI and we encourage minister Bell to continue to ensure that we have a pro-business, pro-enterprise agenda. A focus on growing export is essential.

“Minister Hamilton, with his DFP experience, should bring a new focus to health, and his understanding of balancing challenging budgets should lead to improved efficiencies there,” she said.

Source: irishnews.com