Tue 12th Nov 2013
Nov 13: Translating Business Issues into Policy Solutions
As an essential part of our strategic focus on lobbying the Northern Ireland Executive and UK Government on economic policy issues, we regularly offer member companies opportunities to help us in developing carefully thought out proposals for action.
A further opportunity for members to help shape our thinking will be provided later in the month at an important event – ‘Translating Business Issues into Policy Solutions’ – that we are working on with the Ulster Business School. I would certainly urge as many members as possible to grasp the opportunity particularly at this time when the economy appears to be on the cusp of recovery. And we all hope that this proves to be the case.
Certainly there are many areas requiring urgent action that could help to ensure a strong recovery. We all know what they are. They include energy costs, access to finance, skills, export support, Air Passenger Duty (APD) and, of course, Corporation Tax, the latter effectively shelved until after the Scottish referendum. The indications are that control over this tax could then be devolved to the regional assemblies.
Energy costs here, amongst the highest in Europe and the US, are a major obstacle to growth. Our economy is being hobbled by energy costs. Our electricity tariffs are higher than in many other parts of Europe, where electricity is already twice as expensive as in the US. Cheap energy gives the US a very sharp competitive edge, and at a time when President Obama is once again urging companies there to invest at home.
If we are to be competitive both in terms of investment from the US and other parts of the world, especially by high value businesses in advanced manufacturing and engineering and in exports we really do need a considered debate about the pros and cons of shale gas. If we are really serious about building prosperity and creating thousands of new jobs, we need to be evaluating all options including renewables. We need to find a solution that makes our energy cheaper.
Employment minister Dr Stephen Farry is in the process of addressing aspects of labour market skills here and will shortly publish proposals on apprenticeships and youth employment. He is likely to come up with some interesting and imaginative ideas to improve the quality and flexibility of the labour market including initiatives to enable more employers to invest in skills through apprenticeships.
Dr Farry has already highlighted opportunities for upskilling through foundation degrees. He needs young people and especially their parents to realise there are other realistic career options beyond going to university straight from school. Apprenticeships too should be readily available to employees at any age and at any stage in their career. He rightly pointed out that foundation degree graduates usually have skills and qualifications that meet the specific needs of employers and sectors.
Discussions with companies in areas such as those above enable the private sector to help the public sector shape policies that are likely to produce meaningful initiatives for sustainable economic growth.