QPANI calls for speedy reintroduction of ALCS
Northern Ireland industry and politicians meet Treasury Minister to make case for lower tax rate
THE Quarry Products Association of Northern Ireland (QPANI) along with local politicians Sammy Wilson MP and Margaret Ritchie MP travelled to London last week to meet with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Priti Patel MP, and her officials, to discuss reinstatement of the Northern Ireland Aggregates Levy Credit Scheme (ALCS) and the 80% derogation that the industry enjoyed between 2004 and 2010, before it was suspended due to a European Court judgement.
Suspension of the scheme, which saw the aggregates levy in Northern Ireland increase from 40p per tonne to £2.00 per tonne, followed a lengthy legal battle against the Northern Ireland scheme by the British Aggregates Association and two quarrying companies from the Republic of Ireland.
However, following formal investigations that lasted more than three years, the EU Commission recently announced that it was retrospectively approving the ALCS scheme that ran from 2004 to 2010 as, in its view, it did meet European state aid guidelines.
Commenting on last week’s meeting, Sammy Wilson MP said: ‘I am pleased with the response we have had from the Government at Westminster about this important issue. It is essential that we get the legislation in place for the retrospective scheme, and I believe it is important that the Government brings forward this legislation as quickly as possible.’
Margaret Ritchie MP added that it was reassuring to hear progress was being made in terms of retrospective action on the ALCS with legislation to follow soon, but said questions remained over the timetable for re-enacting the scheme pending a review of state-aid procedures.
‘The Treasury knows exactly what the industry in Northern Ireland expects and we were promised that they would act decisively when the Commission decision comes through,’ she said. ‘To take the industry forward we need to give proper consideration to the devolution of this sector and work with bodies in the rest of Ireland to develop a joined-up approach.’
QPANI regional director Gordon Best said: ‘We highlighted to the Minister that as the economy on both sides of the Irish border begins to pick up, QPANI members are beginning to see more activity in the aggregates market. As a result, our members on the northern side of the border are experiencing the negative and trade-distortion effects of the £2.00-per-tonne aggregates levy.
‘In reality, the justification for the original ALCS in 2004 has not changed in that the aggregates levy has put firms in the Northern Ireland aggregates industry in a more difficult competitive position than initially anticipated. We still have a 300-mile land border with the Irish Republic where no similar high level of aggregates levy exists.’
Mr Best continued: ‘We asked the Minister to ensure that all necessary steps are now taken to facilitate a speedy reintroduction of a state aid approved, Article 110 TFEU-compliant ALCS. We accept that there are difficulties in coming up with a new scheme and have spent some time discussing options that would meet state aid guidance and, at the same time, provide a level playing field for Northern Ireland companies while maintaining the environmental and sustainability focus of the ALCS.’
Adding that the Minister had provided assurance of the Government’s continued and absolute commitment to reintroduce the Northern Ireland ALCS, Mr Best said the timescale on introducing a new scheme and reducing the aggregates levy in Northern Ireland would be dictated by the progress and outcomes of the main legal challenge to the UK aggregates levy.