Corr-Johnston: What we need is Robin Hood when all we have is Prince John.

Corporation Tax dominated the headlines in 2014, writing for Slugger the PUP Cllr for Oldpark, Julie Ann Corr-Johnston argues for a rethink of the entire debate

Corporation tax will probably go over the heads of many in our community, but it has the potential of bringing 50-60,000 jobs into Northern Ireland over the coming years-Peter Robinson

If Peter Robinson was Prince John in the 1973 Disney cartoon version of Robin Hood, I wonder which of his DUP buddies would be Sir Hiss. Sir Hiss was the sneaky snake who Prince John sent to do his dirty work and to spy on good old Robin Hood. There is a memorable scene in the film when Sir Hiss – so keen is he to spy on Robin Hood and his band of outlaws – sticks his head in a balloon and floats off into the sky. I wonder if at the recent Stormont House talks Peter dispatched his own Sir Hiss in such a manner to spy on the other parties, or if things are so cosy and agreeable up there now that there really is no need to spy anymore. For if Robin Hood stealing from the rich to give to the poor was the problem, then Peter needn’t worry about what is going on up at Stormont. With the decision to hand the power for setting Corporation Tax (which in effect means lowering it) to the Northern Ireland Executive then quite the reverse is happening – the poor are being robbed to give generous tax cuts to the rich and well-off company owners.

For many of us growing up in a working class community, good citizenship has been about knowing your place; we have been encouraged to be followers rather than champions of our own community. Those at the top of the “social order” are considered /consider themselves to be our betters – better mannered – better bred – better off socially – better off financially and better educated. The practice of following has lead many of us to the margins of society – segregated from the prospering structure built on top of poverty. Whilst many of our self-serving politicians claim thousands on unnecessary expenses, wine and dine courtesy of the taxpayer, people in working class communities try to make ends meet. The upper reaches of society don’t need another champion when it comes to Corporation Tax – they’ve plenty sitting round the table. Those who do need a champion are the men, women and children in this country who are seemingly less deserving than the multinational corporations and the well-off.

The Public and Commercial Services Union published a report by tax expert Richard Murphy on the 22nd of September 2014, which reveals the overall amount of tax owed, evaded or avoided has barely reduced since 2008, despite Government pledges to be clamping down. The data incorporated in the report reveals that tax avoided had risen to £82 billion and warns that if unaddressed this figure could increase to £100 billion by 2019. The report claims that tax avoidance in 2013/14 alone is estimated at £119.4 billion. So on one hand, we are being told that large multi-national corporations are being taxed too much and then on the other it seems that they aren’t paying any tax at all. The reality, however, is that every big multinational will have a team of accountants and tax specialists working tax as close to zero as possible which is complemented by the loopholes in the legislation that allow businesses to transfer their profits abroad to have them taxed there. So if the big multinational companies that Stormont wants to attract are already working their UK tax bills towards zero then I can’t see how a cut in Northern Irelands Corporation Tax will make much of a difference. It seems to me something else is going on here – a cut in the rate of Corporation Tax is nothing more than a back door tax cut at the expense of the poor who rely on public services.

Our politicians up on the hill are falling over one another claiming there isn’t enough money in the pot to sustain or improve our local economy – subsequently they unanimously agree that devolving Corporation Tax to Northern Ireland and setting a reduced rate will unleash an unprecedented wave of investment (remembering Richard Murphy’s figures on tax evasion and avoidance) and growth that will help tackle the long-term problems in the Northern Ireland economy. This is despite our Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment previously boasting a 41% increase in direct foreign investment. In a more recent article, July 2014, the Minister was quoted saying “The fact that 75% of inward investors choose to reinvest and expand presence in Northern Ireland speaks volumes”. Bear in mind this will cost Northern Ireland somewhere in the region of £350-£700 Million, which is compensated from our allocated block grant, inevitably forcing further cuts to our departments of health and education. Company owners and the well-off may end up even better off, but I’m not sure who else will benefit from the cut in Corporation Tax – how many will invest the tax cut in nice holidays and better cars, as opposed to the creation of new jobs?

The BBC has also reported that “Unemployment: Northern Ireland Jobless Figure Continues to fall” it would appear as a result of the increased investment our Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister boasts about. We can only assume that the figures don’t lie (had Sir Hiss anything to do with them?) and that Northern Ireland is already attractive to investment despite the poverty and social deprivation everywhere. The DUP Minister tells us she is doing such a good job that she wants a tax cut for the well-off while her party is hell-bent on implementing reforms that will in effect tax poor families for having an extra bedroom in their homes. Prince John would have been proud.

Glen Watson (Director General, Office For National Statistics) wrote in a letter in response to a Parliamentary question:

The ONS collects information on people participating in government-supported employment and training programmes via the Labour Force Survey. The information includes the name of the programme and the type of activity being undertaken. Those participants whose activity comprises any form of work, work experience, or work-related training are classified as in employment. This is regardless of whether the individual is paid or not.

This leads me to the Steps 2 Success programme in Northern Ireland, a scheme that is designed to assist those who have been on Jobseekers for a considerable time find sustainable employment. A mandatory programme for a maximum period of twelve months. What this means is if you are unemployed for whatever reason, be it redundancy or lack of basic employability qualifications you will be sent to work for ABC down the road. “We’re sorry that you won’t take home the wage similar to the customer check out assistants but we’ll continue to pay you your social security benefits in return for the invaluable skills and experience you will gain in doing so. At the end of the twelve month programme if ABC offers you a paid position we will subsidise the wages bill for them associated with your employment.” I will let you draw your own conclusions from the following:

Slave: 1.1A person who works very hard without proper remuneration or appreciation

I don’t know a single unemployed person that wouldn’t clap their hands at the idea of 50000 or 60000 new job openings in Northern Ireland. We can all only hope that the figure hasn’t been plucked out of thin air by Sir Hiss in his balloon, and that I am wrong to be suspicious about the motivations behind – and benefits of – a cut in Corporation Tax. However, I also know many unemployed people who will feel cheated and mislead when it is identified they do not possess the qualifications to fulfil the role, even if they do have the skills.

“The education system in the North of Ireland serves some children very well, but there is a significant level of under-achievement. As education plays a key role in determining life chances and opportunities in regard to economic and social mobility, those with fewer qualifications and skills are more likely to be disadvantaged when competing for employment opportunities.” (

The Northern Ireland Education Minister said, “The number of pupils leaving school without five good GCSEs including English and math’s, has fallen in recent years (but) still too many finish their time at school without reaching this important benchmark.” While our education system continues to be based around a model that focuses on providing the best possible education for those who are from better off backgrounds, then it is no wonder so many children from disadvantaged backgrounds are leaving school without so much as a qualification. The children who want to learn, work hard and do well at school but can’t always because they don’t have the financial means or support to access a decent standard of education – they need a champion. The child that had a lifelong ambition of becoming a doctor ending up on a zero hour contract as a community care worker. The closest she got to fulfilling her dream was the stethoscope under the Christmas tree – she needs a champion. And here we are at the beginning – it is the failure in our education system that pushes so many to the margins in society providing the foundations for our betters to build a prosperous world for themselves. So many people living in our society – like the public servant made redundant and living on benefits – she needs a champion.

Devolving Corporation Tax powers will do little to restructure our economy when we have an education system that does nothing to promote innovation and creativity amongst our young. Vibrant and modern economies are ones that promote social mobility and we cannot have this without a good education system. If we want to improve the economy in Northern Ireland we must start at the beginning and restructure our education system. By this I mean from early years – through the expansion of schemes like Sure Start – through to a secondary system that treats all students equally and fairly, and invests resources based on redressing imbalances. When we have a fair education system, then perhaps we will be better placed to develop a broad-based economy that is attractive to investors because of our workforce and innovation, and where more jobs are created by local entrepreneurs from all walks of life. In relation to providing training for the unemployed, we must offer meaningful training opportunities, ones that are genuinely motivated by a desire to improve skills and enhance employability, rather than as a punishment borne out of resentment that someone undeserving is receiving benefits.

It is important to recognise that at the heart of this debate the responsibility and accountability lays solely at the door of our cabaret, otherwise known as Stormont. Which leads me to question the whereabouts of those within the establishment that claim to champion working class issues? Have Sinn Fein and SDLP abandoned their principles in a bid to remove power from the hands of the British government, one for the team, one for a United Ireland and are we just their collateral damage in a sectarian agenda? Out of touch with working class communities, campaign cheerleader and our very own Prince John, Peter Robinson says Corporation Tax may well go over the heads of many in our community (like Sir Hiss in his balloon) but this is not because they don’t understand it, but rather because it won’t make a blind bit of difference to them – except in making their lives worse because there is less money to pay for public services. Instead of borrowing £2 billion pounds from the Treasury, if we really want to make a difference to communities in Northern Ireland we’d be better served eradicating the loopholes that allow corporations to transfer profits outside of the UK to be taxed elsewhere and finding away to collect our share of the £82 billion owed to us.

What we need is Robin Hood but all we have is Prince John.

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  • salmonofdata

    I think that this is spot on. The tribal nature of politics in Northern Ireland mean that Sinn Féin and the DUP (amongst others) can enact policies that run completely counter to the best interests of their working class support base, safe in the knowledge that there will be no electoral consequences to pay. Sadly, it’s hard to see that changing until such a time where people start to vote according to their pocketbook, and not according to their flag.

  • barnshee

    “The children who want to learn, work hard and do well at school but can’t always because they don’t have the financial means or support to access a decent standard of education”

    What exactly does this tripe mean?

    How does financial support affect- particularly- primary and secondary education?

    I don`t think daddy can buy you 3A* at A level or a “First /2.1”

    Please explain why other pupils from the same background subject to the same financial constraints succeed.?

  • The DUP secured the removal of bedroom tax during negotiations with the UK gov. So that was never going to be introduced here. Also the cost of corp tax from the block grant is widely thought to be around £200-300 million per year. Certainly not £700 million, although Simon Hamilton admitted in a written answer that his department hasn’t calculated the take for 13/14. The way the bill has been written up targets industry and manufacturing while excluding financial sectors, therefore it’s less likely to lead to tax evasion but also will have less of a positive impact on the local economy.

  • Zeno

    “The way the bill has been written up targets industry and manufacturing while excluding financial sectors,”

    Seriously? So we wouldn’t be in effect be cutting corporation tax. We would be giving tax advantages only to manufacturing ? I’d really like to see a link to that. So Retailers, Banks, Restaurants and all leisure based business would continue to pay the full rate? I find that really hard to believe.

  • Jag
  • T.E.Lawrence

    Can’t see S/F being too much worried as you say no opposition in it’s constituency, but the DUP need to look over their shoulder in Belfast. The PUP took 17% of the FP Unionist Vote in the 2014 Council Election. That’s a fair slice of the Working Class Unionist Vote !

  • Jag

    I can’t see how the reduction in corporation tax won’t severely impact on NI’s society negatively in the short run. Whether it’s GBP 200m or GBP 700m a year that will need be cut from social welfare, capital spending or public services, it is still a mighty bill to foot until the anticipated benefits of the reduction – increased employment, investment and economic activity – kick in.

    And in the context of the UK, I still revert to the old joke that if the black box on a plane is indestructible then why isn’t the whole aircraft constructed in the same way – if lowering corporate tax rates is so beneficial to the economy, then why isn’t the UK as a whole doing it?

  • salmonofdata

    It’s slightly more complicated than that, but the bill has range of caveats and exclusions specifically aimed at ensuring NI doesn’t receive a lot of the benefits that one might hope to gain by cutting the CT rate. The notion that NI will become as attractive to foreign companies as the South overnight is pie in the sky.

  • salmonofdata

    Are you suggesting that there is no link whatsoever between poverty and educational achivement? That, irrespective if your parents are oligarchs or you grew up in penury, your odds of getting an excellent education and progressing in life are exactly the same?

  • Not that it excludes the retail or other sectors, it does however exclude a number of sectors related to finance and investment as can be found in the link posted, but what it is trying to achieve is securing investment in industry. Cutting tax for retail and services is a side benefit but the real aim is to attract big industry. Cutting the rate would help, we’ve gone from silver bullet to worst idea ever, but other factors are more important than CT rate and reducing block grant will affect those other factors eg. Skills and infrastructure.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I don`t think daddy can buy you 3A* at A level or a “First /2.1”

    Yes they can it is called tutoring. Take the 11+ test, poor parents can’t afford the private tutors that middle class parents can.

  • Séamus

    Have Sinn Fein and SDLP abandoned their principles in a bid to remove
    power from the hands of the British government, one for the team, one
    for a United Ireland and are we just their collateral damage in a
    sectarian agenda?

    According to Slugger, the SDLP will not be ratifying the Stormont House Agreement.

    it won’t make a blind bit of difference to them – except in making their lives worse

    Mar dhea.

  • barnshee

    You can tutor to your hearts content don`t mean they will pass and
    I don`t think daddy can buy you 3A* at A level or a “First /2.1”

  • barnshee

    again repeats

    Please explain why other pupils from the same background–subject to the same financial constraints- in the same schools succeed

  • School leavers achieving at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C not entitled to free school meals – 83.1%, those who are entitled – 58.5% as of 2012/13. Of course educational achievement is not directly proportional to family income but it clearly has an effect.

  • salmonofdata

    If you are genuinely of the opinion that there is no link between socioeconomic deprivation and educational achievement, then I genuinely don’t know what I or anyone else might say to change your mind.

  • Zeno

    “In keeping with the Government’s design principles, profits from some trades – including lending and investing activities (including those of Treasury companies); asset management; finance leasing; long-term insurance (including life insurance) and reinsurance activities of both general and life insurance – will remain in the UK main regime. The UK’s oil and gas tax regime will also not be part of the Northern Ireland regime.”

    Thanks………. I get it now. It was devolved because they can’t do any damage with it. What the UK Government have done is partially devolve it to keep them quiet.

    So none of the 60,000 Jobs we are going to attract will be presumably in the financial sector. That means the UK are keeping all those for themselves.

  • Zeno

    I think what happened was she just phrased that badly. The whole thing is written in political speak. Obviously money and tutoring and resits are a huge advantage over those that can’t afford it.

  • barnshee

    I repeat my request

    Please explain why OTHER pupils from the same background–subject to the same financial constraints- in the same schools -taught to the same curriculum manage to succeed ?

  • barnshee

    “Obviously money and tutoring and resits are a huge advantage over those that can’t afford it.”

    I am unaware of any” tutoring” in third level education other than as part of the course If we are in the” resit”area I am afraid the “First and the 2.1” are gone

    Tutoring( in my direct experience as a tutor only worked where there was a lazy wee shite who had no interest in general or no interest in a specific subject and could be convinced/coerced by parent and tutor to work.
    For a lot of my charges the money was nice but was a waste of time

  • barnshee

    WTF has getting a free school meal to do with academic achievement?

  • salmonofdata

    I’m very sorry, but I am unable to answer your question on
    the grounds that it doesn’t make any sense. You appear to be asking for an explanation as to why two groups of pupils, who exist only in your own imagination, have differing educational outcomes.

    Free school meals are often used as a proxy for children who are being brought up under difficult economic circumstances, as they are only available for those from low incomes or whose parents are living on benefits.

    If you are arguing that socioeconomic deprivation has no
    bearing whatsoever, then that is a bold suggestion, which runs contrary to all received wisdom on the subject. See, for example, the OECD paper “Social Disadvantage and
    Education Experiences”, which concludes “The evidence from empirical research is that education and social disadvantage are closely connected and that people from less advantaged family backgrounds acquire significantly less education than their more advantaged counterparts.”

    I would be very interested in seeing the data you are using to support your bold and counter-intuitive claim.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Free school meals are an indicator that the pupil is from a low-income background.

    There is a correlation between a pupil being a recipient of free school meals, and that same pupil having poor academic attainment.

    People from better off backgrounds tend to do better at school. This is true almost everywhere.

  • Reader

    The UK corporation tax rate has dropped quite a lot in the last 8 years, so they may think they have squeezed any growth benefits out of the changes already.
    There is still a chance to attract a bit of FDI with further cuts; but if there’s only a few thousand jobs to get out of that there’s no point in cutting corporation tax across the whole economy. The smart move is to cut it in a small region. Not much of a gamble, not much to lose (for the UK!), and a fair chance that the small region will benefit substantially.

  • Reader

    Correlation isn’t cause.
    The OECD paper could just as easily have said: “The evidence from empirical research … children whose parents aren’t doing very well in the world of work don’t tend to do very well at school.”

  • Jag

    “The smart move is to cut it in a small region.”

    Whilst that’s debatable, we seem to agree that NI is being treated as a guinea pig for the rest of the UK, but is shouldering ALL of the risk, because it needs make the cuts to social welfare and public spending in that stop-gap period before the hoped-for benefits of reducing corporation tax kick in.

    And if it works, then Westminster is in the luxurious position to expand it. If not, tough on NI. Too bad, so sad.

    Is this the best our €160k a year leaders can achieve?

  • $136050377

    Seems like game up for the Union at this stage. Are there any unionists prepared to admit this?
    Billions will be cut from the budgets..The tories plan to ringfence health, education and that means other departments will receive 30% cuts.
    They are selling off 60,000 Homes,
    Belfast port and the railways.
    to make up the savings.
    But they can’t sell them twice.
    After they have nothing to sell. Kaput. Cuts.
    Patients on trollies…Much talked about NHS is failing and the real cuts don’t start till 2015.
    Just to recap they’ll sell off the homes.
    Introduce a social care bill meaning the councils will repossess them should you need care in old age. Remember Michael Davitt? You should look him up.
    Britain on the exit ramp of the EU.
    I think the 21 st century belongs to Irish nationalism.

  • Zeno

    Are you saying it isn’t possible to tutor someone in an extrance exam for a decent grammar?

  • barnshee

    “I’m very sorry, but I am unable to answer your question on the grounds that it doesn’t make any sense. You appear to be asking for an explanation as to why two groups of pupils, who exist only in your own imagination, have differing educational outcomes.”

    So we have a cohort of pupils in the same school with the same teacher from the same “disadvantaged” background who study the same curriculum.

    Some of the cohort do better than others in the cohort.

    “At St Louise’s Comprehensive College, delighted Principal Carmel McCartan celebrated with pupils and parents as 90 per cent of the Year 12 students achieved five or more GCSEs A* to C grades. “For the past two years the college has been the highest performing non-selective school in Belfast. Last year 87 per cent of our students achieved at least five GCSEs at A* to C level. We are absolutely delighted to see that not only have we maintained this high standard of academic success, but we have done even better this year”

    So disadvantage is the reason for any lack of success?

  • Zeno

    “I think the 21 st century belongs to Irish nationalism.”

    It’s lucky you Guys are so patient.

  • barnshee

    Might intellectual capacity and associated civilised behaviour not influence achievement.?
    What about the “opposite” correlation – between low academic attainment and low income. We have had nearly 70 years of free education— largely in the school of your choice. Don`t blame “free school meals” look elsewhere.

  • Zeno

    I agree with the principle of the case being put by her , but I detest that politico marketing language. Just speak to the people. Sir Hiss……….. FFS!

  • Zeno

    it won’t make a blind bit of difference to them – except in making their lives worse

    Oh, I don’t know about that. They were against Welfare Cuts and stood their ground. Unlike some who rolled over for the Torys.

  • Hmmm ….. Methinks there be fresh Troubles ahead ….. with inept and arrogant politicians the targets for civilian ire.

    Oh dear, what a shame …… but perfectly understandable.

  • barnshee

    Yep it sure” is possible to “tutor” which is largely more of the same as the pupil used to get at primary school.

    How much effect ? -see my comment on “lazy wee shite” elsewhere
    There were ( particularly) male pupils whose success was highly probable -provided they were not distracted by something more exciting in the room during the test – like a fly crawling up a window or the road being dug up outside.

    “Past papers” are easily come by– Tutoring is really the subcontracting of extra work that any conscientious parent could provide

    Perfect example of “wee shite” ?

    Boy projected A/A* in virtually anything except Maths -“i hate it” Mother organises Tutor who provides more of the same as is provided at school–it eats into wee shites free time wee shite realises easier not to “hate maths” and works – end result A in maths more to to with coercion that tuition

  • barnshee

    Wash you mouth out -repeat after me they are “disadvantaged” its society`s fault society must put it right

  • barnshee

    “Billions will be cut from the budgets..The tories plan to ringfence health, education and that means other departments will receive 30% cuts.” Britain on the exit ramp of the EU.


    GB tax payer pounds have flowed into N Ireland in a virtually endless stream for nearly a hundred years to fund the vanity project that is Stormont and welfare state that has produced

    1 Population levels far beyond that supported by intrinsic economic activity

    2 A whining dependence culture by sections of the community who regard it as their right to procreate as extensively as they choose ,be housed a public expense and when( largely because of the extensive procreation) they are unemployed -to be sustained at public expense.

    “other departments will receive 30% cuts.” Britain on the exit ramp of the EU.”

    Can`t wait

  • $136050377

    “GB tax payer pounds have flowed into N Ireland..”
    I didn’t ask you to stay.
    If I had my way. You’d stayed put and got invaded by Napoleon and wiped off the map.
    Let that put an end to you.
    As for the Billions..
    You lot broke it so you can pay to fix it.

  • barnshee

    “You lot broke it so you can pay to fix it.”

    Are now doing so— in your words

    “Billions will be cut from the budgets..The tories plan to ring fence health, education and that means other departments will receive 30% cuts.” Britain on the exit ramp of the EU.

    In my words— brilliant bring it on

    PS in the centre directly opposite Napoleon`s “grande armee” at Waterloo Guess who –The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
    -Famous Irish Regiment defeats Napoleon

  • $136050377

    The Prussians defeated Napoleon

  • barnshee

    Check in with the Museum in Enniskillen I think they may disagree

  • $136050377

    Stories they tell themselves about themselves.
    All very entertaining..But you’ll have to excuse me when I say Unionists history is bunk.
    They haven’t come to terms with King Billy liking a spot of Man Love and been funded by the Vatican.So, I wouldn’t believe them If they told me it was snowing outside.

  • barnshee

    ER check your grasp on history
    Waterloo 1815 no sign of unionists there

  • Seán Maguire

    Excellent analysis of the social and economic fall out from the idiotic decisions made by the Stormont politicos.

  • Croiteir

    Were they too busy marching on the twalf like their descendants in ww2?

  • Croiteir

    Is it possible that, in general, that the children of people of low academic achievement are just not as intelligent as children of people of high academic achievement and all we are getting is the result of genetics? Perhaps champions breed champions?

  • barnshee

    “Perhaps champions breed champions?”

    Dangerous ground there old chap– and remember it takes “two to tango” Are both champions? What about the antecedants -were they “champions”

    My experience is of “champions” arising from the most unlikely sources and of “joint champions” producing anything but champions.

    Dangerous ground there old chap

  • The underachievement can be tracked from pre school age – has ALOT to do with parenting, social issues, home environment

  • surely social disadvantage also refers to parenting and other issues not just income