Businesses 'increasingly shadow boxing' says NI Chamber chief

NI Chamber of Commerce president Ellvena Graham. Picture:Darren Kidd / Press Eye

THE lack of a regional assembly and Executive means businesses in Northern Ireland are “increasingly shadow boxing in an atmosphere of uncertainty.”

That was the key messages delivered by NI Chamber of Commerce head Ellvena Graham to an audience of 850 members of the business community at her President's Banquet at Belfast Waterfront, with the audience including political heavyweights including Arlene Foster, Michelle O'Neill, Colum Eastwood, Robin Swann and Stephen Farry.

Ms Graham insisted that businesses require the support of active and engaged public representatives to boost their confidence at this critical time.

“It's exactly 304 days since we had a functioning Executive – that's 304 days without political leadership or a social strategy or an economic strategy.

“The draft programme for Government published at the end of last year and aimed at creating a better society – is covered in cobwebs. Control of the Northern Ireland budget is out of our hands and is now being set at Westminster.

“We are currently in some sort of limbo between a local Executive and full-blown direct rule. We know from daily contact with businesses large and small and across all sectors that the return of the Assembly is the preferred outcome – a regional government addressing regional needs.”

On Brexit she said: “Our land border with the EU means Northern Ireland is right at the centre of the Brexit negotiations – yet those discussions are going on without a cohesive Northern Ireland voice being heard directly.

“But who is speaking for us? Who is asking the government for clarity and coherence on its Brexit negotiating position and how it sees our future relationship with the EU? There has been some clarity in recent position papers but there are still many gaps.”

The president also highlighted a number of other economic issues that need to be addressed.

“We need to invest in our universities and colleges to bring their resources in line with the rest of the UK; in initiatives that support the long term unemployed to return to work and in infrastructure to help move people and products easier and more cost-effectively," she said.

"We must also see investment in additional fiscal powers to boost our economy including City Deals, air passenger duty and implementing the long awaited corporation tax powers.”

Billed as a celebration of ‘engineering in motion', the event celebrated the north's engineering prowess throughout the evening, with guest speaker Richard Hammond, best known for co-hosting the BBC2 car programme Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson and James May and also Amazon Prime's The Grand Tour.

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