Invest NI sounds like a wonderful thing. It’s a quango, of sorts, that exists purely to ‘support’ the growth and expansion of Northern Irish businesses; particularly those that export abroad.
To do this they give grants to employ new staff, support market appraisals and create business plans. And when a DUP minister comes along and cuts a ribbon or hands over a comically-oversized cheque, you get some free publicity as well.
A friend of mine works for one such business who has benefited from this public subsidy. To protect his employment status I can’t go into too much detail but, let’s just say, his firm turns over an awful lot of money. Hundreds of millions. It doesn’t have a bad profit margin either. And it qualified for thousands of pounds worth of free consultancy on the basis of its geographic location in Northern Ireland. He was shocked by how easy it was.
What is the problem? Well let’s take the example of Decora blinds in Lisburn. Invest NI gave them £240,000 of funding to help take on 80 new staff. How wonderful. Blind manufacturers from all over the UK pay their taxes. Invest NI pick one to give £240,000 of those taxes to, therefore enabling them to expand. It doesn’t matter that their blinds may not be as good as those produced by the competitors who are now subsidising them but because they meet the criteria, they get the money.
Predictably, the Minister Jonathon Bell was on hand to announce the ‘good news’. This is corporatism at work. It’s frankly immoral.
Adopting a proper tax regime, or just lowering corporation tax all together would remove the need for Invest NI all together. Not only is it easier to expand when you pay less tax, lower tax is a pretty great reason, as our nearest neighbours have demonstrated, to locate in our wee country.
It would also be more efficient – churning money through Invest NI’s employees and vast publicity machine does not help achieve the goal of a prosperous Northern Ireland at all. Lowering corporation tax would.
Andrew is studying International Politics and Conflict Studies Queens University Belfast. He is a member of Conservative Future Northern Ireland. Follow him on Twitter: @
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