Childcare proposals ‘must extend’ to support NI workers: Retail NI
Calls have been made for childcare commitments announced in the Chancellor’s Budget to extend to Northern Ireland.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled his first official budget on Wednesday 15th March.
Some of the main headlines include a commitment to invest £20bn over the next two decades on low-carbon energy projects; companies able to deduct investment in new machinery and technology to lower their taxable profits and a freeze on fuel duty, meaning the 5p cut to fuel duty on petrol and diesel which was due to end in April, will be kept for another year.
One of the main talking points has been the expansion of 30 hours of free childcare for working parents in England to cover one and two-year-olds.
Following the announcement, Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said this needed to extend to working parents in Northern Ireland.
“No ifs or buts, the Chancellor’s proposals for childcare in England must apply to Northern Ireland – whether it is passed by the House of Commons or a restored Assembly,” he said.
“This is vital to support workers’ families in the retail and other sectors of our local economy.
“The Barnett consequential from this childcare proposal must not end up in the bottomless black hole of Stormont.”
Mr Roberts added he was “disappointed” there wasn’t further support included in the budget for small businesses struggling with the cost of doing business crisis, however added there were some positives for the province in what the Chancellor announced.
“It is to be welcomed that the UK Government is keen to establish an Investment Zone in Northern Ireland and I hope that discussions can soon begin,” he said.
“Other measures such freezing fuel duty and additional funding for Further Higher Education is good news for our members.”
‘LIFEBLOOD OF LOCAL COMMUNITIES’
Meanwhile, the Federation of Independent Retailers (the Fed) said the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Spring Budget failed to address a number of factors that are threatening the very existence of many smaller retail businesses.
It added that a “major disappointment for smaller shops” was the lack of support on high energy bills, and while a continued freeze on fuel duty is of some comfort, a hike in tax on alcohol and tobacco “is another blow”.
The Fed’s National President Jason Birks said: “I and other trade associations wrote to the chancellor and the business secretary just last month imploring them to provide the necessary help for struggling small businesses.
“It is, therefore, extremely disappointing that our calls for assistance have not been answered.”
Mr Birks said the tax rises on alcohol and tobacco will also lead to an increase in illicit trading, which again is harmful to honest shopkeepers and fuels organised crime.
He added: “The chancellor has shown a complete disregard for shops that are the lifeblood of their local communities.
“I make no bones about it – we will see many forced to close their doors for good as businesses become unviable in the current economic climate.”