Tue 26th Apr 2016
April 2016: There is a difference with the Assembly election this time round
Stephen McCully, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
There is a difference with the Assembly election this time round. In the past when the votes have been cast and counted, the Executive has been established based on each party’s electoral numbers. This year, there is a twist and in our view it is a welcome one.
The two weeks following the 5th May election date have been earmarked for a dedicated period of negotiation on a Programme for Government (PfG). Those discussions will involve all parties who have earned a seat at the Executive table and are designed to produce a set of priorities, policies and programmes which all parties sign up to before the first Executive meeting. In some ways it is a hybrid of our own unique system of non-voluntary coalition and a more traditional democracy whereby a Government is formed, based on strength of numbers, and they face an opposition which will hold them to account for the parliamentary term. On the other side of our election and the PfG negotiations, parties will decide whether to take up their seat at the Executive. For the first time there is a role for an opposition, and we wait to see if any of the parties take it up.
That does have the potential to lead into a messy post election period but, if the end result is an agreed set of policies then it opens the door to a more settled Assembly term and the potential for a genuine cross Departmental strategic approach to building our economy, addressing serious problems in our health and education systems and ultimately reducing the stand-off politics which can dominate when Ministers work in silos and take account only of their own Departmental issues and priorities.
From a business point of view let’s hope we do see that cross Departmental approach. We do acknowledge that the last PfG was said to have the economy at its core, and certainly there was progress in attracting investment to Northern Ireland even amidst the severe economic downturn. We also know that a reduced corporation tax is only one part of an economic recovery plan and only works in the context of increased student places (rather than a reduction), an enhanced communications infrastructure and a more supportive structure for existing indigenous businesses.
So…when the votes have been cast, we look forward to seeing the agreed lines Ministers have signed off on as they take up their roles in the weeks ahead.