View from the Chair

Time to focus on delivery

27th Feb 2024

Last week, Economy Minister Conor Murphy outlined his Economic Vision to the Assembly. At NI Chamber, we certainly welcome the fact that the Minister has set out his priorities for the economy early after the restoration of the Executive.


The priorities set out in the Minister’s vision are to be welcomed. What matters is how that vision is delivered, with the strategic priorities being linked to an agreed and Executive wide Programme for Government and budget. Delivery mechanisms and momentum will be the central focus of NI Chamber’s direct engagement with the Minister, his Department and indeed the entire Executive.

Clearly economic growth is an interdependent mission that will only be achieved through partnership, across Departments and between business and policy makers.  While much of the aspiration is headed in the right direction, many of the priority areas are not mutually exclusive, which makes a whole system approach crucial.

For example, decarbonisation is not only a priority for the Department of the Economy but to deliver net-zero targets, cross-departmental working is essential. That’s because some of the most critical enablers like planning, water and transport infrastructure fall under the remit of the Department for Infrastructure. Responsibility for the Climate Act rests with the whole Executive, while carbon budgets and green growth sit with DAERA.

Similarly, the issue of childcare, which has been widely discussed since the Executive was restored, is vitally important for economic growth. But delivery is managed by the Department of Education, with a role for the Department of Health in terms of regulation.

This is an early stage in the process and there is still much to be clarified, not least how the Minister intends to engage with the business community to achieve the stated aims. Taking an evidence-based approach is key, which is where the private sector can really add value and support.

In the past few weeks alone, NI Chamber has been looking in-depth at the evidence around key blockers to ‘good jobs’ and decarbonisation, publishing comprehensive recommendations for reform of the planning system and making suggestions around reform of the apprenticeship levy. That is in addition to our Quarterly Economic Survey, one of the most detailed and regular insights into business sentiment across the whole of Northern Ireland.  We, our member businesses and colleagues across the business eco-system have a pivotal role to play in the co-design and co-delivery of the future economic landscape of Northern Ireland, so we’re eager to see mechanisms in place to facilitate mutually beneficial working relationships.

Our own evidence base proves that right now, competitiveness is a critical issue for business. Alarmingly, our Quarterly Economic Survey at the end of 2023 showed that among manufacturing businesses, concerns about competitiveness had doubled year-on-year. So, testing this Economic Vision against how it positions NI PLC on the island of Ireland, as a region of the UK and on the world stage, is crucial.

One of the Minister’s stated objectives is tackling regional balance, which is a priority for us too.  As a cross-sectoral body representing members right across the region, NI Chamber is uniquely positioned to support the Department in this area. However, the approach must be delivered in parallel with an investment strategy which is sufficiently attractive and articulates our unique competitive advantages. Investment will follow the path of least resistance and greatest opportunity, so we look forward to meeting with the Minister to learn more about the proposed approach to investment and regional balance.

There is no time to waste in delivering a successful, sustainable Economic Vision for Northern Ireland. Looking outwards, this year could see significant shifts in some of the region’s most important markets as a result of elections in Westminster, the Republic of Ireland, the EU and US. In each jurisdiction, important trading relationships are there to be grasped and grown. It’s up to all of us, in partnership, to present the most compelling investment proposition possible. NI Chamber’s focus will be ensuring that this is coherent, joined up and highly ambitious.