Sat 6th Jul 2013
5 Leaders 5 Days – A Summary
This month saw the first ever ‘5 Leaders 5 Days’ series organised by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce at which the Assembly leaders of each political party outlined their plans for jobs and growth to members of the business community. The unprecedented series provided an opportunity for Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, Tom Elliot, Margaret Ritchie and David Ford to detail their party’s strategy for the economy. The Q&A sessions which followed allowed members and the wider business community to influence and inform the debate on job creation and growth.
The first speaker was First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson who spoke to members on April 5th at the Citi office in Titanic Quarter. At the speech Mr Robinson emphasised his party’s pro-business and low tax ethos and outlined his commitment to a corporation tax rate of 10%. In addition, the next government would commit to creating an extra 20,000 jobs over the next four years. Support for indigenous companies and attracting foreign investment would drive this increase with a focus on financial services, business services, ICT, technology and creative industries. Mr Robinson credited the education standard and work of ethic of the Northern Ireland people as a reason cited by many international investors for their commitment here. In addition, he citied HBO’s filming of ‘Game of Thrones’ as a strong example of how arts and culture can support the local economy.
The second event took place at NYSE Euronext’s office in Adelaide Street in Belfast where Sinn Fein Assembly leader Martin McGuinness outlined his party’s plans for growth. The deputy First Minister was joined by NYSE Technologies CFO Ben Chrnelich who travelled from New York for the occasion. Sinn Fein’s plans to kickstart the economy will focus on developing a functioning and efficient labour market, increasing investment in innovation, research and development and ensuring that local Ministers have adequate powers to have an impact on our economy and economic conditions. This included the harmonisation of the corporation tax rate across the island of Ireland. In addition, the party cited the region’s competitive advantage as evidenced by new inward investors such as NYSE Euronext as well as home-grown success stories including First Derivatives plc. In addition, Sinn Fein will develop a strategy that exploits this competitive advantage and build an economy that delivers for all, he added.
SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie was the third leader to speak and she delivered her address at McGrigor’s in Belfast. She outlined a three-strand approach which would focus on the short, medium and long term. In the short-term Ms Ritchie outlined plans for a programme of public works and home insulation to provide employment. She highlighted the paradox that the NI Executive had no incentive to increase employment as ultimately the decline in tax-take and increased welfare costs were borne by London. To that end, Ms Ritchie proposed a 25 year framework agreement with the UK Treasury which see an agreed future including devolved tax-varying powers, the creation of our own social security system and a gradual reduction in provision under the Block Grant.
Recently-elected UUP leader Tom Elliot spoke at BDO’s office in the fourth event. He quoted his UUP predecessor Terence O’Neil, former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, who in 1964 stated that Northern Ireland should aim to narrow the gap in GDP with the rest of the UK by 2010. It was clear that this didn’t happen said Mr Elliot, and that we could no longer continue on the way we have been. Not only had Northern Ireland fallen the rest of the United Kingdom, but much of the rest of the world. As well as introducing an official opposition in Stormont, he proposed that the rebalancing of the economy should take place through growth of the private sector, enhancing the power of social economy to provide opportunity to those trapped in the poverty trap and ensuring each public service job has meaning for the postholder and the public. He also reaffirmed his party’s commitment to the lowering of corporation tax as well as the introduction of a 5% VAT rate on repair and maintenance similar to that in the Isle of Man.
The final address took place at the Grafton Employment Group’s new Head Office in the Boat Building in Belfast. Minister for Justice David Ford outlined his ambition for the Alliance party to deliver an Economic Revolution in Northern Ireland. The region should be a leader not a follower in the business world he said. Change will mean the growth of the private sector which in turn will generate wealth and increase employment opportunities for all members of society. His party will prioritise skills infrastructure through simplification of the advisory landscape, support for employers who want to upskill their workforce and the provision of flexible learning methods. In addition, he called on the business community to ensure increased employment opportunities and that access was available to those who may have spent periods outside the workforce.
Speaking after the fifth and final event of the series, Francis Martin, President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce said: “This was the first time in Northern Ireland’s history that the leaders of each of our political parties addressed the business community with their plans for jobs and growth and ‘5 Leaders, 5 Days’ has played a central role in the debate how to kickstart employment and growth.”
“Our economy faces opportunities and challenges ahead and I look forward to working with each party leader to ensure effective government and deliver reduced corporation tax and increased employment,” he concluded.