NI Chamber: Unleashing Business Growth in 2015
Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) has outlined its key priorities for 2015.
The business organisation, which represents over 1,200 businesses across Northern Ireland, employing 100,000 people, believes that The Stormont Agreement is a welcomed development and encourages the Northern Ireland Executive to focus on creating an environment for business growth and developing a long term sustainable plan for public finances.
Ann McGregor, Chief Executive of NI Chamber said: “We begin 2015 with a sense of optimism. Corporation Tax powers have been devolved to Northern Ireland and a draft budget has been agreed. NI Chamber therefore urges the Northern Ireland Executive to begin 2015 by reconsidering the draft budget allocations for the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) and in particular the allocations to higher and further education and skills development initiatives which lead to the development of a higher value economy; support export development and reduce youth unemployment.”
On modifications to the Northern Ireland Executive’s Draft Budget 2015-2016
NI Chamber welcomes the Executives draft Budget, and although not perfect, we recognise the challenges faced by the Northern Ireland Executive when reaching agreement on this. Given the extent of the savings required it is therefore vital for the Executive to work collaboratively in 2015 to develop long-term sustainable plans for public finance. In this context it is important that consideration is given to raising more revenues and improving efficiency and outcomes in service delivery rather than just relying on public expenditure cuts.
“NI Chamber emphasises the need to continue to prioritise spending that rebalances the economy and leads to an increase in the size of the private sector. To do this effectively, there needs to be a cross-cutting approach rather than silo/top slicing approach when it comes to setting Departmental budgets.
“Critical to private sector growth and economic recovery is having the infrastructure and skills to allow businesses to develop and flourish. The draft budget places great emphasis on funding job creation as evident in the fact that DETI is being allocated a further £30m to ensure its recent impressive record on job creation can continue.
“It is also vital that programmes which lead to the creation of new businesses and improved productivity in existing businesses are protected. This includes budget for the proposed export action plan under development by DETI as well as innovation and skills programmes which have demonstrated real value.”
On the devolution of Corporation Tax powers
NI Chamber welcomes the fact that an agreement has been reached and that legislation will be introduced as soon as Parliament returns to enable the devolution of Corporation Tax in April 2017. As a result, the Northern Ireland Executive must start its preparations immediately.
“It is essential that we start with sufficient budget allocated to Invest NI so it has the resources to market the new inward investment proposition in relation to the devolution of corporation tax and to continue to support high value job promotion.
“Demand for Grade A office and industrial space is likely to intensify and infrastructure investment in transport hubs, airport access and better and faster links to Dublin must also become a priority. Also, given the competition for labour in certain key sectors and occupations like ICT and engineering, shortages are likely to appear relatively quickly in Northern Ireland.”
On education and skills
Employability skills must be put at the heart of the education system, so that businesses have access to the right people with the right skill sets to be able to compete internationally.
“A change in the corporation tax regime is expected to change the employment market within Northern Ireland, with a need for more skilled staff to fill higher paid jobs.
“It is vitally important that budget is allocated to DEL to support the development of STEM programmes and retaining the Assured Skills programme which engages the FE sector to bridge the skills gaps in priority sectors such as IT, advanced engineering and financial services.
“It therefore does not make sense in this context that Higher Education institutions are facing cuts of around 11% and a potentially 1,100 fewer undergraduate places will be available at the universities next year. We urge the Executive to reconsider this element of the budget, especially in light of the recent Corporation Tax announcement.”
On increasing the number of active exporters in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland’s business base has been the slowest of the UK regions to recover from the impact of the recession. Between 2010 and 2014 Northern Ireland’s private sector business base was continuing to contract (down 0.5% against a UK growth rate of 17%), however definite signs of recovery are beginning to emerge. However Northern Ireland still lags behind the rest of the UK with regards to the number of active exporters, with this figure continuing to decline.
“With only 1,600 active good exporters, with 60% of Northern Ireland exports delivered from fewer than a dozen world-class companies, we can – and must – do better. However Government do not have to solve this issue alone and should recognise and support the role of the private sector in delivering trade support to business. If government can cooperate with the private sector through a partnership approach then together we can make it easier for businesses to find the support or advice that they need in a timely and efficient manner.
“Key to progress in this area will be the Export Action Plan currently being developed by DETI, due to be released for consultation early this year and NI Chamber looks forward to engaging with the department as part of this process.”
On progressing the Review of Red Tape
The Review of Red Tape by DETI in 2014 was a positive step in tackling the burden of regulatory red tape upon local businesses and NI Chamber welcomes the recommendations published by the department in December 2014.
“The volume of bureaucracy hampering firms is still far too high and the government must continue to work to reduce burdensome red tape, particularly those stemming from Brussels and the European Parliament, which act as a barrier to growth for many firms.
“NI Chamber looks forward to engaging with the department throughout 2015 as it starts to implement the recommendations including the appointment of an independent Northern Ireland Better Regulation Champion which will engage regularly with the business community.”
Ms McGregor concluded:
“Further hard choices will have to be made again this year. Hard choices in relation to water charges, student fees, free prescriptions and concessionary fares on public transport must be fast tracked. It is also important that agreement is reached regard welfare reform as the bill looks to pass its consideration stage by the end of February 2015.
“Following The Stormont House Agreement, our political representatives have the power to lay the foundations for the future economic prosperity of Northern Ireland and we expect them to deliver in 2015.”