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

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY MAR­GARET CAN­NING

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


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