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  1. MLAs on Economy Committee briefed on efforts to bridge skills gap in industry
  2. Committee hears from Ulster Farmers' Union and Renewable NI on onshore wind power generation
  3. Finance Committee receives briefings on corporation tax devolution from HMRC and Department of Finance

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

That's all for today...

Emma Pengelly adjourns the committee.

Join us tomorrow morning from 10:00 for live coverage of the Communities Committee, with evidence sessions on the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill.

Bye for now!

'What cost would make tax cut a vanity project?'

Northern Ireland's block grant will reduced by about 2% as a result of cutting corporation tax, Mr Sullivan says.

TUV leader Jim Allister asks him at what stage there is a "kick-in of non-viability" for the project in terms of its cost to the executive.

Jim Allister

He asks: "Is there a danger with something like this that it could turn into such a vanity project that wrong decisions could be made?"

Aidan McMahon says the cost estimates from HMRC have reduced over the last four years from "over £420m".

"That's a significant difference to where our cost estimates are of £270m," he adds.

'Tax cut benefits seem highly conceptual'

Ulster Unionist Philip Smith asks about predictions for the result of the devolution of corporation tax.

Mr Sullivan says Ulster University figures foresee an 8.5% growth in the economy over 15 years and the creation of 32,000 jobs.

Philip Smith

He adds, however, that these will need to be recalculated in light of the EU referendum result.

Mr Smith says "it still seems to me this is highly conceptual" and "a bit of a wing and a prayer".

'Azores ruling relevance depends on Brexit outcome'

The DUP's Emma Pengelly, who is chairing the meeting, notes that the original negotiations on corporation tax were framed by EU rules on state aid found in the so-called Azores ruling.

The judgement defines a regional reduction in corporation tax as a form of state aid, and that must be paid for by a cut to that region's funding.

Mrs Pengelly says it is anticipated that the ruling will no longer apply after the UK leaves the EU.

Union jack bunting above an exit sign
Getty Images

Mr Sullivan says the April 2018 target "is likely to be within the European Union context" - in other words, Brexit will not have happened by that stage.

He says the future relationship with the EU is unknown.

"If it was a Norway model, Azores would be required," he says, "if it was a freer model then Azores might not be required".

'Key issue is public expenditure limitation'

Officials from the Department of Finance (DF) arrive for their briefing on corporation tax and the Fresh Start Agreement.

Colin Sullivan explains some of the work done by the department in preparation for the devolution of corporation tax powers.

Colin Sullivan and Aidan McMahon

"Arguably the key issue for us is the public expenditure implications," he says.

He points out that the costs of devolving the powers have yet to agreed with the UK government and are "expected to be updated following [Chancellor Philip Hammond's] autumn statement," he says.

'Bearer of tax cut cost not dependent on Brexit'

BBC News NI political correspondent tweets...

'HMRC expecting UK rate to fall to 17%'

Ulster Unionist Philip Smith touches on the UK government's intention to reduce corporation tax to 17% by 2020, which was announced in March.

In the wake of the Brexit vote and shortly before he was sacked as chancellor, George Osborne said he would reduce the rate to below 15% in an attempt to woo businesses when the UK leave the EU.

George Osborne

Stormont's Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said that ran a "horse and carriage" through the Northern Ireland tax plan, but Mr Osborne was removed from his role shortly afterwards when Theresa May became prime minister.

Mr Smith asks whether HMRC is anticipating the UK rate to drop to the initial proposal of 17% or Mr Osborne's suggested lower rate.

"The current chancellor has not said anything different to [a rate of 17%], so that's the policy framework we're not looking at," Mr Sherman says.

'Tax IT systems set to run on schedule'

Jon Sherman

First up before the committee are representatives from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Jon Sherman, its director of corporation tax, says the likely costs involved in setting up IT systems for the tax in Northern Ireland would be about £4m and he is confident that the systems will be in place in time for 2018.

Background: Corporation tax in Northern Ireland

On the agenda for the Finance Committee this afternoon is corporation tax - the tax that companies pay on their profits - and the executive's plan to cut the rate to 12.5% in 2018.

The executive believes that cutting the rate from 20% will help to tackle long-term problems in the Northern Ireland economy.

The Treasury building in London

But the cut all depends on whether or not the measure is affordable.

Introducing a lower rate would mean the Treasury would collect less revenue, and the executive would have to be make up the shortfall through a cut in its block grant.

Welcome back

This afternoon we bring you live coverage of Stormont's Finance Committee.

First up is a briefing from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on corporation tax.

That will be followed by a further corporation tax session with officials from the Department of Finance.

That's lunchtime...

With the committee meeting adjourned, we'll take a break for lunch.

When we return at 14:00, we'll have coverage of the Finance Committee, which will be taking briefings on the devolution of corporation tax.

Questions... but no answers?

UUP MLA Alan Chambers raises a point that he is having difficulty receiving answers to his assembly written questions from the economy minister.

He says he has questions dating back to June that he still has not received a response to, and follow-up questions to ask when those initial queries will be answered have also been met with silence.

Alan Chambers

Ministers have a specified period time within which they should provide a reply to members.

Committee chair Conor Murphy says the assembly's business office is supposed to chase up answers from the departments.

But he adds that the committee "has a particular interest in the working of the department" and therefore there should be a "particular focus on ensuring your questions are answered".

'Anaerobic digestion the way forward for farming'

A way forward for renewables in the farming industry should be anaerobic digestion, rather than small scale wind power, the DUP's Thomas Buchanan suggests.

He says wind turbines "right across our rural countryside are sort of an eyesore to put it mildly".

Slurry tank

Mr McMillan says he is "concerned" that wind power could become overlooked.

Mr Osborne says anaerobic digestion is another way for farmers to make use of their slurry. He adds that hydrogen can be generated from anaerobic digestion, and hydrogen-fuelled tractors - what would have been classed as "Star trek stuff" a few years sgo - could soon be a reality.

'Distinct lack of engagement on interconnector'

Ulster Unionist Steve Aiken says a major issue facing the energy industry is the delay in the north-south electricity interconnector project.

It would link the power grids in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, and warnings have been made that if it does not begin soon Northern Ireland could face serious energy shortages.

Steve Aiken

Mr Aiken says they  "can't put any more renewables in the system unless the interconnector is built and built quickly".

Mr McMillan says there has been a "distinct lack of will to engage on any of this" by government, developers and other bodies on how to progress the project.

'Need for commitment on wind energy future'

Matters move on to renewable energy, particularly small scale wind power generation.

Representatives from energy sector developers Renewable NI and the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) about the implications of the early closure of the Renewables Obligation subsidy scheme and the future of the industry.

Wind turbines

The UFU sees wind energy as a "way of improving on-farm efficiencies", says Chris Osborne, a senior policy officer from the union, and farmers "want a commitment" for support.

Rob McMillan, Renewable NI's general manager, tells the committee that a specialist renewables policy is needed within the Department for the Economy, as well as investment in Northern Ireland's energy infrastructure.

'Unemployment rate drop good news for NI'

Northern Ireland's unemployment rate has fallen to 5.5%, the lowest it has been since 2008.

Benefits office sign

The jobless count fell by 400 in September, with Economy Minister Simon Hamilton welcoming the fall and describing it as "good news" for the region.

'Aim to give apprentices marketable skills'

John Armstrong sees a big difference between what is considered to be an apprentice in England and Wales, and the higher skills approach in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A builder working inside a house

He says he does not want to be disparaging but "if you flip a hamburger or stack shelves" you are defined as an apprentice.

Barry Nelson of CITB says they aim to ensure "an individual has high-level skills that are transferable and are marketable".

'Concern over leaching of talent to Great Britain'

Ulster Unionist Steve Aiken asks how many people are travelling to Great Britain to work on construction projects.

John Armstrong says that of the top 20 contractors: "90%-plus of their turnover is now out of Northern Ireland".

Cranes on a construction site

Mr Aiken is concerned about a "leaching of talent" out of Northern Ireland".

Mr Armstrong says "the workloads are not here", and he refers to the lack of public sector projects, low profit margins and "sub-economic tendering" by firms - that is submitting abnormally low tender prices in an attempt to win a contract.

'Working outside puts strain on family life'

Ray Hutchinson of Gilbert Ash says that "all our staff are now faced with being on a plane on Monday morning and back on a Friday".

He says this is a "putting a huge strain on their family life".

Cranes at a construction site in London
Getty Images

Despite this, Mr Hutchinson says it is not about to move its headquarters to London.

"Northern Ireland is still home." he says.

'Apprenticeship levy will have profound effect'

John Armstrong of the Constructor's Employment Federation (CEF) addresses the question of the apprenticeship levy.

The UK government is introducing the levy of 0.5% of payroll on bigger companies from April 2017 to help pay for training.

John Armstrong

Mr Armstrong says that the levy "affects Northern Ireland and the construction industry here in a very profound way", as companies already pay 0.65% of payroll for the services of CITB.

He says the problem is expected to affect 24 to 25 larger construction companies.

'Construction skills lost as workers move elsewhere'

Representatives of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the Construction Employers Federation, and construction firm Gilbert Ash arrive for their briefing on the skills gap and apprenticeship levy.

A crane on a construction site

Barry Nelson of CITB says that, in spite of the economic crash, Northern Ireland construction firms have been successful in finding contracts abroad.

He says people with relevant skills have therefore been emigrating and in may cases not returning to Northern Ireland.

'No committee briefing on monitoring round'

Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party says a monitoring round statement has been timetabled for the assembly plenary next week but the committee has yet to been briefed.

Stephen Farry

He objects strongly to the lack of briefing from the department.

"A very clear pattern is emerging in this regard," Mr Farry says.

In the chair

Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy is chairing this morning's Economy Committee meeting.

Conor Murphy

He announces that a budget briefing from officials slated for today's meeting will not go ahead.

Mr Murphy says this is "a very unsatisfactory state of affairs".

Good morning

Welcome to our Stormont Live coverage of this morning's meeting of the Economy Committee here at Belfast's Parliament Buildings.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont

The subjects for discussion include the skills gap in Northern Ireland industry, and incentives for onshore wind power generation.