CEE Revenue Generation in Northern Ireland Seminar
This was a wide-ranging discussion looking at issues such as: rates; service charging; prescription charging; asset sales; water charges; borrowing; and new taxation.
Dr Esmond Birnie, Chief Economist with PwC in Northern Ireland set the context of the discussion. In his presentation he drew upon on his CEE report Fiscal Powers: A review of the fiscal powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Additional contribution came from a panel consisting of Seamus McAleavey (NICVA), Glenda Davies (Sandy Row Community Forum), Dr Graham Brownlow (economist, Queen's University Belfast), Jenny Ruddy (MS Society NI) and Ian Parsley (political and economic commentator).
General points of discussion included:
- There was a general consensus that the process by which the Northern Ireland Executive agrees its budget is unsatisfactory. Participants expressed that the budgets are rushed, and there is insufficient time and information provided for interrogation by the public.
- There was agreement that the public needs to be better informed and educated about government spending. For example, several participants noted that rates are not well understood by the public, with many not realising that much of the money raised is spent by Stormont departments, as well as local government.
- There was a belief that the spending decisions and budget process in particular need to be integrated into the wider vision for Northern Ireland. With the budget and Programme for Government more closely linked.
- There was a recognition that taxation is not solely about raising revenue to finance public services, but they it also informs behaviour. For example, the plastic bag tax was intended to reduce plastic bag use and this has been achieved. However, impacts are not always positive; reintroducing prescription charges could see people foregoing medication to fund other necessities such as food and housing.
- Participants agreed that as with Scotland and Wales there should be established an independent commission to consider the devolution of taxation powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly which would consider revenue generation in a holistic way.
NICVA Chief Executive, Seamus McAleavey, noted in his closing remarks at the Revenue Generation seminar, this is the beginning not the end. This seminar has proven to be a good start. This issue brought together a wide range of participants who took part in a respectful debate between numerous points of view. The discussion of the revenue generation powers of the NI Assembly will continue.