Mon 20th Feb 2017
February 2017: 5 Leaders; 5 Days
Nick Coburn, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
The forthcoming election on March 2 is both unexpected and unwanted. However, once it became clear that we were headed for the polls again, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry reached out to the main political parties who have variously made up the Executive over the last 10 years and invited them to take part in our ‘5 Leaders; 5 Days’ series of talks and question and answer sessions. It was good to hear a positive response from each party and at the time of writing we are midway through the series.
We wanted to hear from each of the political parties what their views on the economy are and what they believe the priorities should be following the election next week. Indeed we laid down 5 specific steps which we believe would increase business confidence.
They are: urgent agreement on a budget; an emphasis on exports and providing support for business with the potential to export; prioritise skills; a focus on infrastructure projects including the A5, A6 and the York Street Interchange; and agree a single voice and message on Brexit to address key business concerns regarding skills and trade, the ability to employ international labour, freedom of movement of people living and working on both sides of the border and being able to trade as freely as possible with the Republic of Ireland.
So far none of the leaders of the political parties have expressed any degree of opposition to any of our priorities, even if they may differ on the most appropriate means of getting to the outcome we all want.
Each of our sessions so far has involved a significant degree of input from the business owners and representatives who have turned out in very healthy numbers. It is very encouraging that despite a perceived widespread apathy around politics, there is still a willingness and interest in the business community in engaging with the political parties. Business wants politics to succeed and wants to see a settled political situation where progress and long term planning is not threatened by recurring breakdown and stagnation.
All the usual issues have popped up during the ‘5 Leaders; 5 Days’ series – the fate of corporation tax, the role of the third sector; the need for skills to meet job requirements.
Broadly speaking, the business community and the political leaders know the direction of travel on which we want to embark. Much of it will come to nothing however, if we don’t have the basic ingredients in the mix and they are; a settled Executive; an end to on/off politics and an agreed focus on the role of economic growth and development.
Politicians – it’s over to you