PLATFORM Uncertainty is crippling Northern Ireland ... politicians must lead us
It’s hardly controversial to suggest that it’s an uncertain time for Northern Ireland. It’s less than a year to go until Brexit. It’s been 17 months without a functioning Executive. Having come through decades of the troubles, local businesses (and indeed the wider community) are incredibly resilient. However, this current uncertainty has now gone on too long. It is leading to stagnation.
There is a clear need for leadership, decision-making and clarity if local firms are to fulfil their potential and deliver jobs and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland.
STRONG RESPONSE Chartered Accountants Ulster Society, which represents 4,500 Chartered Accountants across Northern Ireland, has just launched the results of its members’ survey. Our members are at the heart of local businesses and their frustration was palpable. It was the strongest response we’ve had to a survey in 10 years.
And 85% of our members said the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive was having a negative effect on the local economy. In addition, 91% said it was having a negative effect on the provision of public services. More than eight of out 10 (84%) said the political situation was negatively affecting our position in Brexit negotiations.
Northern Ireland has come a long way since the days of conflict and there is no question that our politicians have a very difficult job to do, but something has got to give.
UNCERTAINTY IS CRIPPLING The fact is that uncertainty is crippling. We need our local politicians to finish the job of moving from a society of conflict to one which has a bright future. Jobs, growth and ultimately people’s quality of life are at stake.
First of all, stability affects investment. An uncertain political outlook makes potential investors more likely to delay investment decisions. I believe that Northern Ireland is a great place to live, and a great place to do business. It can be hard to convince investors though, when they can’t see a stable government in place.
Then consider where we are with Brexit. Our geographic, social and economic ties with the Republic of Ireland mean that we’ll be at the sharp end of this new arrangement, whatever it may look like.
The year ahead is one of the most important years for our economy. It’s a year which will shape our future trade relationships and set out who we are, and what we have to offer to the rest of the world. That’s why we need a functioning Executive at Stormont.
BREXIT ARRANGEMENTS It’s time to ‘get real’ about Brexit. The sooner we know the likely form of future trade agreements between the UK and EU, the better we can prepare local busi- nesses for the changeover and take advantage of whatever new opportunities Brexit can bring.
We see no evidence at the moment that businesses should prepare for anything other than the reintroduction of tariffs and quotas on imports and exports between the UK and EU post-brexit.
Generally, aside from agribusiness sectors, it is not the amount of customs duties that will pose the greatest problems for local businesses. It is the disruption of customs checks at the border and increased administration that comes along with it.
Many businesses will also encounter a new up-front VAT charge on imported goods. This has the potential to cause real cash-flow problems for business, unless a postponed method of accounting for VAT can be introduced.
The SME sector is less well prepared to deal with customs administration. They will need a programme of education and resourcing to help them comply with the new trading reality.
THE BOTTOM LINE The bottom line is that we need leadership and a plan. By now, there will be a backlog of decisions on local services to be taken.
We need clarity on the future trading relationship between the UK and EU, along with a realistic plan on how the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be managed.
More than that, we need to show that we can work together to meet local people’s needs and rebuild confidence to deliver a stable, prosperous Northern Ireland.
Businesses need clarity over future trading arrangements with the EU