PLAT­FORM Un­cer­tainty is crip­pling North­ern Ire­land ... politi­cians must lead us

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Employment News - By­niall­harkin, Chair­man, Char­tered ac­coun­tants Ul­ster­so­ci­ety

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

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