NI economy now ‘behind’ due to lack of a devolved government
‘Enough is enough’ say leaders as Nine ars 600 days of no storm ont
THE potential growth of Northern Ireland’s economy and its image overseas is being harmed by the continued lack of devolved government, it’s been claimed.
The province today enters its 589th day without an Executive, a new milestone for having no government.
And today, business groups including Manufacturing NI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Retail NI said members were losing out on important benefits and opportunities as a result.
In particular, companies here are paying into a fund for apprenticeships through a system known as the apprenticeship levy.
But because there is no devolved administration, funds within the apprenticeship levy are not being allocated.
And the groups have called on Northern Ireland’s politicians to get back to the negotiating table to restore power-sharing.
Aodhan Connolly, chief executive of the NI Retail Consortium, said NI was becoming a less competitive place to do business: “The lack of government prevents decisions on mission critical issues for our industry.
“We are paying the apprenticeship levy and seeing no benefit, our business rates system is punitive to our industry and the lack of leadership on Brexit is hugely concerning.
“We are falling behind the south and Great Britain on the fact we have no retail strategy, no lead retail official and no legislation to protect our shopworkers.”
And Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said the lack of ministers to make direct policy was hitting members.
Business leaders expressed disbelief that the lack of devolved government had persisted for so long.
They said progress was being delayed on key infrastructure projects, and pointed to the paralysing effect of a judgment by the Court of Appeal which effectively barred civil servants from making big decisions.
A senior official in the Department for Infrastructure was found by the court to have overstepped the mark by giving the go-ahead to the £240m Arc21 incinerator in Mallusk.
The judicial review in May found that the decision should not have been made by a civil servant but by a minister — giving rise to fears that other big infastructure projects could also get held up.
Ann Mcgregor (below), chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “The current political paralysis is having a real impact on the business community and by extension on the hopes we have for sustainable economic growth over the next decade. There are a number of key infrastructure projects awaiting ministerial approval that will provide a much needed increase in construction work and generate economic growth and long term jobs.
“In terms of foreign direct investment, Northern Ireland’s credibility as a place in which to do business is also suffering intolerably, and almost reaching 600 days without a devolved government only helps highlight our paralysis on a world stage. We need to see more energy and more willingness being injected into the efforts to restore devolution.
“We need the return of a functioning local executive as soon as possible with a ministerial team focused on helping the Northern Ireland economy grow.”
Glyn Roberts, chief executive, Retail NI said: “It is frankly hard to believe that we are fast approaching 600 days without a working Government in Northern Ireland. While this is not ‘officially’ a new Guinness world record it does our international reputation no favours at all.
“The bottom line is that political instability is bad for business and the economy.
“Retail NI wants to see the restoration of a working Executive and Assembly, which will take the key decisions on infrastructure, economic development, reforming business rates and be a strong voice for Northern Ireland in forthcoming vital Brexit talks.
“The recent Court of Appeal decision on the incinerator has huge implications for millions of pounds of major infrastructure projects such as the Interconnector, York Street and many more applications. Our members deserve better than ‘care and maintenance’ administration and emergency budgets.”
Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI said members were growing more and more disillusioned with uncertainty at home — as well as uncertainty over Brexit.
“You also have uncertainty at Westminster because the Conservative Party is fighting with itself instead of fighting for the country,” he continued.
He said manufacturing needed refreshed energy policy on affordability of pricing. In addition, Northern Ireland lacked an economic plan or strategy to respond to changes in the world economy.
“The Economy Minister (then Simon Hamilton) had started an industrial policy before the collapse of the Assembly so that hasn’t gone any further — and in the last two years, the world has significantly changed. “Eventually, we will have some conclusion to Brexit negotiations and we will need an industrial strategy that’s fit for purpose. We don’t have one.
“All the costs of Brexit will land on manufac- turing and farming.” He said members were fed up with politics here: “When the last period of talks collapsed, I was expecting lots of calls from firms, saying ‘ this is terrible’. But I didn’t have one single call, which tells me people have checked out and are getting on with it themselves.
“But at this time, politics matters now more than ever as we try to navigate through enormously choppy world waters.”
Mr Kelly continued: “The lucky thing about the last 500-odd days is that world economy has kept growing and our people are still busy. But all the forecasts are that the world economy will begin to slow again towards the end of year and it’s then you need politicians making timely decisions on behalf of the business community and we just don’t have that.”
FSB NI policy chair, Tina McKenzie, said: “Businesses value certainty, so the continued absence of devolved government or, indeed, any decision-making authority in Northern Ireland, creates an uncertain environment for businesses, public services and wider society.
“Previous research conducted by FSB demonstrated that political uncertainty was the number one concern for SMES.
“The stasis which Northern Ireland has experienced since January 2017 has meant that key decisions which could improve the business climate, in areas such as infrastructure, skills and training, are not being taken. This will ultimately lead to us losing ground on our counterparts in other parts of the UK and Ireland, and will further diminish our competitiveness.
“Meanwhile, as Brexit negotiations reach a crunch stage, there is no collective voice for Northern Ireland, as has been the case throughout most of the process, which risks causing damage and missing opportunities.
“With the recent Court of Appeal ruling restricting the power of civil servants further, the tolerance for continued ‘administrative limbo’ is wearing thin. Political leaders must redouble their efforts to restore devolved government, or Northern Ireland will lose out.”
Northern Ireland’s credibility as a place in which to do business is suffering intolerably