Major Step Forward on Aggregates Levy

Gordon Best, Regional Director, QPANI
Gordon Best, Regional Director, QPANI

From the Desk of Gordon Best, Regional Director, QPANI

In the final paragraph of my article in the June edition I commented on the fact that the EU Commission were likely to make a judgement on their formal Investigation into the Northern Ireland Aggregates Levy Credit Scheme and the main legal case by the autumn.

I am delighted to report that on the 6th August the Commission issued the following statement: “State Aid: Commission approves reduced aggregates levy for Northern Ireland. “

It continued: “After an in-depth investigation opened in July 2011, the European Commission has found that a reduced aggregates levy for Northern Ireland was in line with EU state aid rules. The aggregates levy is an environmental tax in the United Kingdom, levied on commercially exploited virgin aggregates. A lower tax rate is applicable in Northern Ireland. The Commission considered the reduction of the aggregates levy in Northern Ireland in line with the applicable Environmental Aid Guidelines, because the full levy would have led to an excessive cost burden on the companies and a proportional tax level is nevertheless maintained.”

The Treasury, Department of Finance and Personnel and QPANI will not be issuing any definitive statement until we review the full Commission Statement and take legal advice on it. It is unlikely a quick decision will be made about re-introducing the 80% rebate for Northern Ireland until they view the full statement and furthermore until the EU Commission investigation on the main case is concluded.

I am sure you will all agree this is good news and a major step forward. However, there are a few more major steps to be taken until we achieve a satisfactory outcome to this whole saga. The next step is to get the derogation introduced and then as the discussions begin on a re-designed aggregates levy across the UK our position will be to push, in partnership with other industry colleagues, for a level of extraction tax that is minimal and one that regions of the UK like Northern Ireland can cope with.

The long and ominous shadows of political uncertainty and budgetary cuts are now beginning to darken the growing hopes of economic recovery in Northern Ireland. The recent June monitoring, or as it turned out the July monitoring round, has laid bare the disagreements within the Northern Ireland Executive  that now we face the prospect of a potential collapse of our Assembly at Stormont.

I really feel for those companies and particularly QPANI members who have fought tooth and nail to survive the most savage recession in living memory, many in fact experiencing personal stress as they struggled to keep people employed and their businesses alive. QPANI have been engaged in intensive lobbying and meetings with the local political parties over the past few weeks as we endeavour to bring the facts in front of them so they get a clear message of what political disagreement and subsequent budget cuts create where it matters most, peoples’ jobs and incomes!

Invaluable Help

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity on the back of the positive decision from the EU Commission to again remind everyone about the importance of having a respected, hardworking and representative Trade Association working on industry’s behalf. The information provided by our members Northstone, Whitemountain Quarries, Acheson & Glover, Quinn Group and FP McCann was invaluable in assisting the EU Commission to come to their decision. I hope those who have not renewed their membership over the past few years or those who have never been members or contributed anything to the future success and sustainability of the industry will consider membership and offer your support for the Association.

I would also like to thank our three MEPs, our MPs at Westminster particularly Margaret Ritchie and Sammy Wilson, our MLAs and NI Executive Ministers  and officials within the Department of Finance and Personnel for all their help and support in getting us and NI PLC thus far.

Let’s hope by the November edition of Plant and Civil I will be writing more good news about the re-instatement of the ALCS and the 80% rebate for Northern Ireland.