Private sector 'must double' for economy to succeed

Colin Walsh address delegates at the CBI gala lunch

THE north's private sector would need to double for the economy to provide a successful economy, the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said.

Colin Walsh, in his last major speech as chair of the body in Northern Ireland, used his platform at its 50th anniversary gala lunch to issue a wake-up call to politicians and business leaders.

He told delegates at the Culloden Hotel outside Holywood that the north's "private sector needs to grow or even double in size in order for us to have a successful economy".

And Mr Walsh, whose two-year tender in the CBI chair finishes at the end of December, insisted the lowering of corporation tax could play a major role, prompting the the creation of "up to 40,000 jobs".

The dinner was to have been attended by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness but only the deputy first minister made himself available.

A planned question and answer session was cancelled, with Mr McGuiness instead speaking for a few moments before returning to talks.

Mr Walsh said that were talks successful in delivering political stability, it could have a transforming effect on the north's economy.

"Our members have made it very clear that we are better off with devolution and they do not want direct rule, but we do not want the old executive back either," he said.

"We want a restructured, properly functioning executive, with new mechanisms and procedures that deliver results and bring an end to the recent never ending series of standoffs, logjams and showdowns. The people are tired of a Stormont that staggers from crisis to crisis. Our political leaders must deliver political stability as this is the foundation for building a more prosperous Northern Ireland.

"The prize of successfully resolving this latest political impasse is tremendous, the opportunities enormous. The alternative is an anaemic economy, dependent on handouts from Westminster, and perhaps most critically an entire generation resigned to the prospect of an era of lost opportunities."

Mr Walsh talked about establishing a "feel-good factor" with people wanting to live and work in teh north and young people wanting to stay.

He called for progress on major infrastructure projects and connectivity­ upgrading the A5 and A6 roads to opening up the west to economic investment and new jobs.

"To achieve this vision political change is required. It is not up to us to determine the form of new political structures but it is clear to everyone that we need a system that can avoid the never ending series of standoffs, logjams and showdowns that have characterised Stormont to date," he said.

"Trust and confidence will clearly underpin the new relationships that are required. Outside interventions may be needed. The local parties need to reflect carefully to consider whether their leadership teams have the right skill sets needed to establish consensual government to move forward."

During his speech, Mr McGuinness said: "Government must play its part and empower businesses. I want to strengthen the links between the public and private sector, between the executive and our business community. Collectively we can create a 'pro business' environment which is innovative, productive and deliver quality jobs. Only then can we enable our young people to fulfil their potential and our business sector to benefit from the highly skilled and motivated workforce which is required for our economy to thrive."


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