An­gela Mcgowan

Our firms have shown nerve and re­silience to grow de­spite the lack of Ex­ec­u­tive and Brexit un­cer­tainty

Belfast Telegraph - Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies - - CONTENTS -

That North­ern Ire­land’s most suc­cess­ful firms con­tinue to pros­per against an un­cer­tain back­drop is tes­ta­ment to their for­bear­ance and in­no­va­tion. Broadly speak­ing, the chal­lenges they face are the same as last year. Re­solv­ing Brexit and restor­ing the North­ern Ire­land Ex­ec­u­tive re­main ur­gent. Mak­ing progress in these ar­eas will al­low firms to get on with cre­at­ing a more pros­per­ous so­ci­ety for ev­ery­one. But we must also make room to tackle other is­sues, from de­sign­ing a fu­ture im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that works for busi­ness to cli­mate change.

Be­fore tak­ing a closer look at the to-do list, it’s worth un­der­stand­ing the eco­nomic back­drop. Growth is slow­ing across the UK. And in­vest­ment is suf­fer­ing due to the pro­longed un­cer­tainty, which is sad­dling busi­nesses with ex­tra costs and com­pli­ance as Brexit no-deal plan­ning con­tin­ues.

The CBI and other ex­pert voices have put for­ward clear ev­i­dence about the harm a hard bor­der would bring. Busi­ness has played a huge part in con­tribut­ing to peace and pros­per­ity across the is­land of Ire­land these past 20 years. For that to con­tinue, the con­di­tions for com­pa­nies must im­prove, not worsen. So politi­cians on all sides must com­pro­mise to find a deal that com­mands a ma­jor­ity in the House of Com­mons, can be ne­go­ti­ated with the EU and pro­tects the UK and Ire­land’s all-is­land econ­omy.

Turn­ing to the UK and North­ern Ire­land’s fu­ture im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, the lack of ac­cess to skills re­mains acute, with a ma­jor­ity of CBI NI mem­bers high­light­ing con­cerns over fu­ture labour sup­ply. Our agri-in­dus­try, hos­pi­tals, house­builders and re­tail­ers are ex­am­ples of ma­jor em­ploy­ers al­ready strug­gling to find the peo­ple they need at salaries well be­low £30,000.

In­deed, our own anal­y­sis shows that an age­ing pop­u­la­tion, com­bined with sub­dued lev­els of net mi­gra­tion, will leave the lo­cal econ­omy highly ex­posed to any re­stric­tions on mi­grant work­ers. Specif­i­cally, CBI es­ti­mates show that a 50% re­duc­tion in EU mi­gra­tion into the re­gion over the next 20 years would de­crease real GDP by 5.3%. This un­der­lines why it is so im­por­tant to cre­ate a post-brexit im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem

that works for all UK re­gions and na­tions, in­clud­ing North­ern Ire­land.

Mov­ing on, it’s pleas­ing to see com­pa­nies listed in this year’s Belfast Tele­graph Top 100 com­ing from a wide range of sec­tors — from en­ergy pro­duc­tion and con­struc­tion to IT to fi­nan­cial ser­vices. Yet they all have a sim­i­lar out­look on sev­eral key mi­cro and macro is­sues.

On the mi­cro side, each of these firms know main­tain­ing a relentless fo­cus on com­pet­i­tive­ness and pro­duc­tiv­ity per­for­mance is key for success.

Whether par­tic­i­pat­ing in the robotics revo­lu­tion, dig­i­tal con­nec­tiv­ity, or driv­ing up in­no­va­tion, suc­cess­ful firms are con­tin­u­ally ex­plor­ing ways to drive out­put growth. We all know in­vest­ment in tech­nol­ogy is just one way to im­prove per­for­mance.

In­deed, adopt­ing suc­cess­ful new technologi­es al­ready avail­able in the mar­ket can fos­ter large pro­duc­tiv­ity in­creases. Be­yond tech­nol­ogy, how firms lead, de­velop and en­gage their peo­ple di­rectly im­pacts busi­ness per­for­mance.

Fresh CBI re­search sug­gests busi­nesses have the po­ten­tial to add more than £110bn to the UK econ­omy by im­prov­ing their peo­ple man­age­ment prac­tices.

At a macro level, there are also com­mon chal­lenges that have rapidly moved up the agenda for the CEOS man­ag­ing com­pa­nies in North­ern Ire­land. Per­haps the greatest chal­lenge of our age is cli­mate change. From school strikes to the Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion cam­paign, global protests have raised the right questions and shown that a lack of ac­tion will be cat­a­strophic.

Some­times, busi­ness is perceived as the ob­sta­cle to deal­ing with cli­mate change. But many com­pa­nies are lead­ing the charge from the front. From colos­sal off­shore wind tur­bines to elec­tric ve­hi­cle batteries, they are the ones in­no­vat­ing the world away from en­vi­ron­men­tal risks by de­liv­er­ing the tech­nol­ogy needed to cut car­bon emis­sions.

With­out busi­ness in­no­vat­ing to cre­ate the solutions to the chal­lenges of our gen­er­a­tion, there is no way we can stop global warm­ing.

Ul­ti­mately, progress on cli­mate change re­quires real solutions and ac­tion from busi­ness, gov­ern­ments and of course the pub­lic too – we all need to make changes to the way each of us lives our lives.

Just as we know more than ever about the neg­a­tive ef­fects of cli­mate change, thank­fully, we also know more about the solutions – and the wealth of opportunit­ies they of­fer. On­shore wind is among the cheap­est of all en­ergy sources and so­lar power con­tin­ues to fall in price, while rapid advancemen­ts in bat­tery tech­nol­ogy means elec­tric ve­hi­cles are surg­ing in pop­u­lar­ity.

The scale of the chal­lenge is sig­nif­i­cant. While shift­ing to­wards a zero-car­bon fu­ture will not be cheap, it is the best value in­vest­ment that we can make in the long run.

How­ever, the costs of any tran­si­tion can­not be borne by those least able to deal with them. In­vest­ing in new technologi­es must be shared fairly, be­tween con­sumers, busi­nesses and the Govern­ment.

The world has reached a large and un­avoid­able cross­roads on cli­mate change. Tough de­ci­sions and lead­er­ship, from cabi­net ta­bles to board­rooms are needed.

This is the “space race” of our time, the green race to a bet­ter fu­ture. The onus is now on politi­cians and busi­ness to work to­gether to cre­ate mean­ing­ful ac­tion on this is­sue.

So, with that in mind, I look for­ward to see­ing more cli­mate change in­no­va­tors in next year’s list. Mean­while, I and my col­leagues through­out the CBI will be do­ing all we can to keep on cre­at­ing the right con­di­tions for busi­nesses of all sizes and sec­tors to pros­per.


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