CEE Revenue Generation in Northern Ireland Seminar

On 14 December 2015 representatives from the voluntary and community sector, political parties, civil service, business and academia met to discuss the issue of revenue generation in Northern Ireland. 

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. 

 

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