View from the Chair

In my final View from the Chair as NI Chamber President, it feels fitting to reflect on the year just past

21st May 2024

In my final article for this newspaper as NI Chamber President, it feels fitting to reflect on the year just past; the many highs, significant challenges and thankfully, the progress we’ve witnessed most recently.

First and foremost, I am pleased that as I end my term as President, we’ve recently marked 100 days since the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive. For more than half of my tenure in office, we repeatedly called for the urgent return of the devolved institutions and while there is a significant workload ahead, the momentum to date is definitely a step in the right direction.

To date, we’ve had some really positive direct engagement with Ministers across the board, with plenty of opportunities for our members to have their say too. That included the Finance Minister, who set out the financial challenges ahead, and the Economy Minister, who addressed a recent economic conference to lay out his Economic Vision. I have also had the pleasure of hosting a session with Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd very recently, who is now well up-to-speed on NI Chamber’s proposals for planning reform.

As we move forward, maintaining the spirit of partnership is key. Right now, our businesses face many well-documented challenges, as does the Executive, which has some really difficult decisions ahead, particularly following the Budget. To move forward and build a flourishing, competitive economy which benefits everyone in society, business and policy makers must work together from the outset to co-deliver genuinely transformative solutions.

It will require imagination, innovation and commitment on all our parts. I know that NI Chamber is deeply committed to playing its role in co-designing solutions, having presented a host of them already and as I continue to support this organisation as a Board member, it has my full support in doing so.

Partnership really has been the theme of my tenure and it’s been a genuine pleasure to see so many great relationships come to fruition. One of the most significant alliances has been with our colleagues in North Carolina Chamber, who we travelled to visit in March.

There, we signed an MOU which saw both parties committing to work together to promote international trade, access to markets, investment and co-operation and make a pledge to leverage existing synergies between both economies, share research and learning and foster new business relationships. That partnership has such exciting potential and is something I am excited to see develop over the course of this year and beyond.

Having the opportunity to work with international partners and shout about our strengths was a brilliant and timely reminder of the many reasons why Northern Ireland is a fantastic place to do business, and why, at the end of my tenure as President, I am so optimistic about the future.

As a place to do business, Northern Ireland has strength-in-depth.  It is the UK’s fastest-growing region for business start-ups, with a proven propensity for innovation in high-growth sectors including Health and Life Sciences, Advanced Manufacturing, Tech and Financial Services.  With a unique and compelling investment proposition, natural resources to support the secure supply of clean energy and a resilient and entrepreneurial talent-base, the region has exponential growth potential – that’s what we should all be focused on maximising.

Businesses are resilient and they’ve been clear about what they need next from government in both Stormont and Westminster. The desire for long-term, strategic decision making from political leaders everywhere is paramount. As is investment in infrastructure and an Executive initiated independent review of public spending. Looking ahead to a UK General Election and new Westminster government, they’ve clearly articulated why a new fiscal framework and more competitive taxes (not least to compete on Corporation Tax on the island of Ireland) are at the top of their asks.

It has been a personal and professional privilege to be NI Chamber President and as I prepare to hand the chain of office on, I know that now, we have a window of opportunity to prioritise a prosperous, productive and competitive economy which serves business, society and the next generation better.

In my last few weeks, I had the privilege to take in the views from the top of Goliath, in Harland and Wolff. From there I could see the transformation that increased business and government investment has brought, but also the potential to achieve so much more.

The aspiration to build a stable and flourishing economy is one I share with business leaders in all sectors and I look forward to continuing to support this going forward.