Sat 6th Jul 2013
NICC President’s Banquet: The President’s Address
Deputy First Minister, Ministers, distinguished guests, Lords, ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome to all of you, and thank you for attending this evening.
I would particularly like to extend a very warm welcome to our Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, who has created something of a record by fighting three elections in seven months.
It is a pleasure also to welcome Robert Peston. Robert, if you are here with us in Belfast City Hall, you are not on the BBC national news with yet another sorry economic tale to tell. So, by your presence, I would like to think that all must be alright with the world of finance; global markets; bailouts; Euroland debt and IMF and ECB crises and that recovery, therefore, is close at hand! But I guess that would be wishful thinking! Robert, we look forward to hearing your ‘take’ on things a little later.
I would also like to give a very warm welcome to our communications partner BT, represented here tonight by Colm O’Neill, who is the new Chief Executive of BT Ireland. Colm, we greatly value your support.
Many of you will know that the Chamber is no new kid on the block. In the 229 years it has been around, the Chamber has witnessed great events and momentous change globally, including:
Two World Wars, and countless smaller conflicts
42 Prime Ministers
All 44 US Presidents
The rise and fall of Communism
The industrial revolution
The global economy
The European Union
Recession, depression, growth and recession again
Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Twitter
And, of course, the MTV Music Awards.
So, we’ve seen a lot. And we’ve done a lot.
The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce is the leading business organisation in Northern Ireland with some 1,200 members drawn from every business sector, from innovative micro enterprises to export-driven world-beaters.
Despite our economic woes, membership has increased by 26% in the past year and we have already exceeded our membership target for 2011 by 10% with a few weeks still to go. People in business recognise our relevance.
Our recent success is now being widely recognised. In the past month alone we have won 3 business awards, 2 from the Chartered Institute of Marketing and 1 from Women in Business which recognises the strength of our marketing and profiling and the outstanding leadership and management shown by our wonderful Chief Executive, Ann McGregor.
Now, I have no desire to sound self-congratulatory, but the Chamber is effective and packs a punch when it is needed.
It effects change.
Supports entrepreneurship and export and….
Leads from the front in all the major economic debates.
Your Chamber – and it is YOURS – presents ideas and challenges the status quo. It lobbies on YOUR behalf, and creates opportunities for you to do what you do more effectively. We hope to extend the sphere of our influence at national level as I join, in January 2012, the Board of the British Chambers of Commerce, the umbrella organisation for more than 55 Chambers throughout the UK. I commit to bringing priority matters of importance to our members here in Northern Ireland onto the agenda as the Board of British Chambers of Commerce engages with the UK Government.
Beyond this, we reach out to our politicians at a number of levels.
Throughout the year, we continued with our successful in-camera meetings with Ministers and leading political figures.
In the run-up to the Assembly and Council Elections, engagement was taken to a new level when we hosted our very well attended “Five Leaders, Five Days” political series.
They all told us that the economy was front and centre, their top priority.
At the ‘coalface’ of economic reality, we continued to campaign for a cut in Corporation Tax.
We teamed up with others under the “GROW NI” banner to press the government for a change to assist our competitiveness and international attractiveness.
This issue is as live today as it was last year. No firm decisions have been made. In fact, there has been some slippage in the decision-making process and we remain ever-vigilant in case key figures become lukewarm on the idea.
There is a lot to play for here. Our support is rock-solid. Reduced Corporation Tax will come at a cost to the block Grant, but the cost of dithering and doing nothing is far greater than grasping what I believe would be the game changer for the economy.
For us, there is no Plan ‘B’.
Anything less than a reduction in Corporation Tax would, in my view, amount to tweaking at the fringes. And that would be unacceptable as we strive to overcome a series of unprecedented economic challenges.
It is great to see that the phrase ‘Corporation Tax’ appears over 60 times in the Economic Strategy published last week, illustrating how important the Executive sees a reduction as key to shaping our economic future. I also understand the first meeting of the Joint Westminster and Stormont Ministerial Group to look at a cut in Corporation Tax took place in the past 2 weeks.
Whilst all of this is very encouraging there is still the very significant issue of convincing Treasury of the case for a Corporation Tax reduction.
So, clearly, there is still work to do but we will not take our foot off the pedal as we seek to build a new, vibrant and competitive regional economy.
We also campaigned on Air Passenger Duty. APD threatened Northern Ireland’s one and only direct trans-Atlantic service from Belfast International Airport. The excessive tax ‘take’ of