Mon 4th Jan 2016
Unleashing business growth: NI Chamber outline key priorities to help grow the local economy in 2016
Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) has outlined a number of key priorities to help grow the local economy in 2016.
Speaking on behalf of the business organisation, which represents over 1,200 businesses across Northern Ireland, employing over 100,000 people, Stephen McCully, President of NI Chamber, said:
“As we begin another year, it is an appropriate time to look ahead at what is possible, or achievable, in the 12 months to come. At Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry there is a real belief that we can be positive about 2016, with the convergence of a variety of economic and political factors meaning that the foundations for sustainable economic growth could finally be in place.
“NI Chamber shares the view of the wider business community in regard to the political settlement reached late last year. The ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement provides the prospect for the kind of political stability required to foster economic growth, and allow our member businesses to plan growth with the assurance that our institutions are settled.”
On Corporation Tax…
“Knowing the date and the new lower rate will help to attract new high-end foreign investment. However, we have always maintained that reduced tax alone is not the whole answer to fostering business growth.
“It is essential that we start with sufficient budget allocated to Invest NI so it has the resources to market the new inward investment proposition in relation to the devolution of Corporation Tax and to continue to support high value job promotion.
“Demand for Grade A office and industrial space is likely to intensify and infrastructure investment in transport hubs, airport access and better and faster links to Dublin must also become a priority. Also, given the competition for labour in certain key sectors and occupations like ICT and engineering, shortages are likely to appear relatively quickly in Northern Ireland.”
“NI Chamber welcomes, and we stand ready to work closely with, the new Department of the Economy. We hope that this will bring skills and the economy closer together.
“We need to increase the size of our workforce to meet the demands of many industries and that means that 2016 is certainly not the time to reduce the number of students in our universities. To attract quality overseas investment we have to be able to offer quality employees in the right quantity.
“We have worked with a range of incoming companies to Northern Ireland and we know that the mix and ability of our employee pool is absolutely vital to them. This will require an ongoing liaison between higher and further education and the business community.”
On growing exports…
“NI Chamber has always championed export as the key to economic growth however Northern Ireland’s export base is small and heavily dependent on a few large firms.
“We do however believe that the forthcoming ‘Export Matters’ Action Plan to be released by DETI during 2016 provides a route map to increased export activity. The Department is committed to putting this issue out to consultation in early 2016 and NI Chamber is part of a panel involved in the process to move forward on the ‘Export Matters’ action plan.”
On the review of business rates…
“Amongst the other issues which will help set the context for economic growth is the Rates Review. Business rates is a tax that hits companies of all sizes long before they a make profit, and impacts on business growth and investment.
“NI Chamber members are of the view that the business rates system in Northern Ireland is in need of reform. Last year, as part of the NI Chamber & BDO Quarterly Economic Survey, almost 80% of businesses believe that rates should be reformed to make them more reflective of economic conditions. It is an important policy tool which requires careful and strategic consideration throughout the next few months.”
“Infrastructure is one of biggest issues raised by NI Chamber members who believe that Northern Ireland’s infrastructure is suboptimal. There is a lack of delivery of key projects (e.g. North South Interconnector) and our road networks are not well maintained. Northern Ireland also needs to invest in public transport services to enhance connectivity and mobility (including the rail link to Dublin).
“Our members have long called for improvements in the strategic road network with a particular focus on addressing bottlenecks, such as the York Street interchange, along with the other projects such as the A5 and the A6 which now have a firmer timetable set. We hope 2016 is the year that such developments progress.”
On the new Programme for Government (PfG)…
“A key determinant in the success of the economy over next year, and beyond, will be the new Programme for Government. The last Executive declared that the economy was at the heart of the Programme for Government but it was an aspiration which was too often bogged down by political disagreement. All parties and the incoming Minister for the Economy must use this new Assembly mandate to make this pledge a reality.”
Concluding, Mr. McCully said:
“NI Chamber is confidently optimistic as we enter 2016. Our series of Quarterly Economic Surveys in 2015 showed that our members had a determination to grow and succeed but were frustrated by the stalled political process.
“These conditions will be better in 2016 and that allows for a better context for growth. The Chamber, under the excellent and inspirational leadership of Chief Executive Ann McGregor and the management team, working in partnership with a strong Board will continue to drive forward Northern Ireland plc. That is our commitment to our membership and to the wider Northern Ireland business community.”