Alliance leader Naomi Long addressed an audience of businesspeople today (Monday), telling them that “Despite the challenges facing us, Northern Ireland has the resources to emerge from the pandemic stronger and more competitive than before.”
She was speaking at an event hosted by Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber), part of a ‘5 Leaders; 5 Days’ pre-election series delivered in partnership with SSE Airtricity.
Speaking in the Europa Hotel, Ms. Long said:
“In this election, we are setting out an ambitious plan not just for the economy but for NI as a whole. We want to end the drama and soap opera politics and focus on stability and delivery.”
She focused on skills as an economic driver, saying, ”Skills are the engine room of the economy: a key driver of economic and social change in our society, central to increasing productivity and making our economy more open, flexible and competitive.
“A skills revolution is just one way in which we can make sure that Northern Ireland offers the best possible environment for investors from abroad. This cannot simply be just about lowering costs. It is not sustainable to try and be the cheapest, we must instead try and be the best.”
And on climate change, she commented, “We will address the issue of climate change by establishing a green economy taskforce to advise the Executive, and a Green Investment Unit to look at sustainability across all Invest NI projects.
“Planning applications which are stuck in the system for years hold us back economically and socially. Statutory consultees are often the slowest to respond and a culture change is needed to make public sector bodies drivers of change, not barriers to it.
“Our Green New Deal is our plan to build a new society, invest in thousands of secure, green jobs, and transform our economy.”
NI Chamber’s President, Paul Murnaghan also spoke, stressing that the incoming Executive should focus on areas of strategic importance including promoting Northern Ireland internationally, skilling up for a green and digital future and speeding up planning decisions, saying:
“To achieve any of this successfully, we need to see all of our political representatives around the Executive table, focusing on creating the conditions for a flourishing private sector.
“At NI Chamber, we believe that Northern Ireland is a unique place and that our focus should be on what makes us a uniquely brilliant place to work, live and do business. As a region, we enjoy unrivalled access to both the EU and UK markets, creating opportunities for exports, FDI and international collaboration. We have a youthful, highly skilled workforce with high levels of wellbeing in a cost competitive location, which is recovering rapidly from the pandemic. By working collaboratively, we have a tangible opportunity to lead in the innovation and operation of digital and green technologies as we aim for net zero 2050 – or earlier.
“As we gather this morning, Northern Ireland has a window of opportunity to excel in a number of spaces. The next set of Ministers and MLAs must get to work quickly, put party politics aside and deliver the certainty and stability that businesses, their employees and everyone in Northern Ireland deserves.”
SSE Airtricity Managing Director, Klair Neenan added “The passing of a Climate Bill in the Assembly in recent weeks, and the setting of a net zero target, is something to be strongly welcomed and will be vital in providing confidence for green investment in Northern Ireland. But the key is in ensuring that this overarching ambition is backed up by policy and action. We have taken the first steps with the Energy Strategy published last year. Whilst the ambition in the Strategy, including targets of 80% for renewable electricity by 2030 and 50,000 retrofits a year, are to be lauded, it is vital that we see action post-election to further accelerate green investment.
“We have an enviable advantage in Northern Ireland in our natural wind resource and our success to date. But to reach the target of 80% renewable electricity we will need to at least double the amount of wind capacity in Northern Ireland this decade.”