Northern Ireland minister Hugo Swire has played down the impact that a VAT cut would have on the tourism sector, saying the issue is “secondary” behind businesses offering value for money and good hospitality. Swire was questioned in Parliament on VAT in light of the decision by the Irish Government to slash the rate to 9% for 18 months, which took affect from last week, and similar action in France and Germany. In contrast, VAT in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK remains at 20%. SDLP MP Mark Durkan called for Swire’s department to use its influence with the Treasury “to commend a sectorally targeted VAT cut for tourism throughout the UK”. Swire responded that the UK’s VAT rate is below the EU average of 20.8%. “Germany’s lower rate is simply a mechanism to redistribute money from the centre to the Länder, as Germany has many local tourist — or ‘bed’ — taxes,” he pointed out. “We would all like lower taxation and we would all like the deficit to be addressed, which is what we are seeking to do, but this is not just about the rates of VAT. “London hotels are doing better than they have done for some time, there are more tourist visitors to Northern Ireland than there have been for some time and [Durkan’s] city of Londonderry will be city of culture in 2013. “We need to offer people value for money and good hospitality — that I am sure we can do — and the issue of VAT will then become secondary.” Meanwhile, the campaign to reduce VAT for the leisure sector continues to gather momentum. On Tuesday, Luke Johnson, the serial restaurant investor, called on the whole hospitality industry to come together to campaign for a cut in the level of VAT. M&C Report’s sister title Publican’s Morning Advertiser is calling for VAT for the sector to be reduced to 5% in its Thrive on Five campaign.