Jury still out on G8 policing costs and the benefits to NI

Preparing for the protests

Preparing for the protests

By Andrew Coffman-Smith

Despite Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander announcing London would be picking up the “majority” of the tab for G8 policing – including most of that £4.2 million “ring of steel” circling the Lough Erne resort, many in Northern Ireland are still concerned about the exact cost of its share and whether the G8 will benefit the local economy in the long run.

Others are still opposed to paying any share for an event that London chose to have here in Northern Ireland.

According to Finance Minister Sammy Wilson who met with Alexander last week, the Northern Ireland Executive is now expected to pay around £6 million of the total expected policing cost of £60 million.

Earlier this week, Minister of Justice David Ford of Alliance said that he “cannot give forecasts of what the overall costs will be because there are sufficiently many undetermined factors which will not be determined until significantly after the conference is over”.

Asked whether overtime pay for officers will be included within the expected £6 million share for policing, a PSNI spokeswoman told The Detail: “It is too early to say at this stage what the costs of policing G8 will be. We have always said that we will publish a detailed breakdown of expenditure post G8.”

The Detail asked five of Stormont’s parties to consider the costs and benefits of hosting the G8, to comment on the “£6 million” policing bill and on where Northern Ireland fits into the bigger picture.

Beyond the £6 million

Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness praised the move by the Treasury to reduce Stormont’s share of the burden but repeated that London “must step forward and accept that it will be responsible for providing funding to cover all costs associated with this event”.

“Neither the Executive nor Fermanagh District Council can afford to divert finance from already depleted budgets in order to facilitate a summit to which we have had no substantive input,” he said.

While praising hosting responsibilities, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) hit out at a lack of transparency and accountability over how much policing will cost Northern Ireland.

The party said: “The bottom line is that we don`t know how much the policing costs will be because the Justice Minister, David Ford won`t tell us.

“This is an event which the Prime Minister has basically given to Northern Ireland to represent the United Kingdom. It is a fantastic showcase. Therefore it is reasonable that we make a contribution.”

“However in an open and accountable democracy we do expect to know what that contribution is expected to be."

Benefits, Costs and Lasting Impact

The last G8 summit held in the UK was in July 2005 at Gleneagles, Scotland. It pocketed a net profit of £4.6 million according to a report presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly, available here.

The Scottish Government covered £60.1 million of the total costs of £90.9 million to host the summit. Of the £64.7 million in new turnover and overtime payments, the largest investment was £49.9 million in overtime payments to police.

While there has never been a study on long-term impact on the Scottish economy from the G8 summit, £65 million spending went directly into the Scottish economy in addition to £66 million in worldwide media coverage.

Around the summit Edinburgh retailers lost an estimated £7.5 million and the tourism industry was down by £6 million in expected revenue.

Scottish Nationalists also at the time said the footage of riot police being broadcast around the world hurt Scotland’s image.

Alliance deputy leader and MP for East Belfast, Naomi Long, said this year’s summit was “worth hosting”:

“The fact is the UK has the presidency of the G8 for this period and the Government chose to hold it in Fermanagh,” she said.

“It’s not about cost-balance but rather that they decided the location was the best one, especially as the Treasury has indicated that it will cover the policing costs.”

Despite the policing costs, the UUP still believes that the summit’s “long-term benefits are potentially massive” and, specifically, “this week’s BBC television profile of Enniskillen should prove to be worth millions to our tourism industry”.

Assessing potential impact of the G8 should not be limited to Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin said, as “it is about more than the North of Ireland and we do not look at these events from a parochial / partitionist point of view”.

On behalf of the SDLP, Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood said “it remains to be seen” on whether hosting the summit is worth the costs.

“Hopefully the fruits of summit in terms of economic stability, climate change and infant hunger and nutrition will ensure that it was of worth,” he said.

Whatever the disruption incurred by necessary security precautions might be, the DUP said “the majority of people, and particularly those in areas like Fermanagh recognise that this short-term disruption paves the way for much larger potential long-term benefits”.

Tax havens, Transparency and the Corporate Rate

Prime Minister David Cameron’s G8 agenda is focused on cracking down on “tax havens” by stopping tax avoidance and creating international transparency between tax authorities.

“We want to see Northern Ireland being an attractive place for investment and to do this it is necessary to ensure that regulations and taxation do not hinder the growth of our economy,” the DUP said.

“Businesses and individuals should be expected to pay a fair level of taxation, but similarly Government should be able to expect that businesses and individuals will not use complex mechanisms to avoid the payment of tax.

“Having a low-tax economy in Northern Ireland does not equate to being a ‘tax haven’ but by reducing some of the tax burden on businesses it can stimulate investment and the economy and thereby actually increase the total tax revenue generated.”

Alliance’s Naomi Long said corporate tax avoidance does not just concern and impact Northern Ireland’s public expenditure and the citizens of the UK.

“It’s also an issue about international justice, because in the most extreme cases, the UK is paying in aid to developing countries a fraction of what the Government is losing in avoided tax by multi-nationals,” she said.

“If we were able to get more transparency around tax issues and ensure full tax is paid where it is due, it would also benefit many developing countries in terms of putting them in a stronger financial position so they could be dependent on their own trade rather than purely on aid.

The UUP is hopeful about Cameron’s recent hosting of ministers from British overseas territories to “urge them to root out the multi-billion pound evasion industry by signing up to agreements to share tax information”.

“The continuing focus on Corporation Tax rates as the ‘game changer’ for the NI economy emphasises the need for a level playing field in terms of tax. Any international agreements that improve this situation will benefit Northern Ireland,” the UUP said.

The SDLP Colum Eastwood agreed with the initiative to stop the corporate “race to the bottom” of tax avoidance.

“Financial capital, and in particular profits, fail to be exposed to the same international regulation and protections encountered by ordinary commodities and exports – even people.”

“What does need to happen is that the full light of transparency begins to be shine on the international financial sector. This will require unprecedented co-operation between all countries.

“It will ultimately put to the test the primacy of politics and government over the dangers of the unchecked market."

© The Detail 2013