Business

Shake-up at FSB as policy unit revamps and Mitchell steps down

Tina McKenzie, new chair of the FSB NI policy unit

THE lobby body which speaks on behalf of around 20,000 small businesses in Northern Ireland has undergone the biggest shake-up in a generation, making sweeping changes to its guiding body.

The Federation of Small Businesses has appointed Tina McKenzie as chair of its guiding body, the FSB NI Policy Unit, replacing veteran businessman Wilfred Mitchell OBE, who has been in the role since the 1990s.

And her appointment marks a massive programme of reform being implemented across the organisation, with transformational changes to the rest of Policy Unit which has brought in a raft of new high-powered executives.

They include Eleanor McEvoy, chief executive of Budget Energy and a star of RTE's Dragons' Den; Patricia O'Hagan, chief executive of Core Systems; Mervyn McCall, who heads up Sliderobes and is a prolific angel investor; and Conor Devine, founder of real estate and debt advisory business GDP Partnership.

Also part of the new-look unit are Alan Lowry, managing director of Environmental Street Furniture; Tommy Maguire, commercial director of Core Systems; George King, owner of Merdyn Daycare Nursery and chair of the NI Day Care Owners Association; Harvey Moffat, founder of several businesses including interiors' company Co-Design, and well-known businessman Brendan Kearney.

FSB's head of external affairs Roger Pollen said: “These appointments give us the strength and depth we need to meet the expectations of our members when it comes to effective engagement with government at all levels.

“The Policy Unit was founded nearly two decades ago and has had the same chairman throughout. During that time, the FSB has had major lobbying successes, including introduction of new policies such as the Small Business Rates Relief scheme, which has seen tens of millions of pounds returned to many thousands of our smaller businesses, as well as the effective resistance of policies that would have had a damaging impact.

“Aside from external campaigning, one of the most significant achievements was the internal lobbying to persuade FSB to purchase prominent grade A office premises in Belfast city centre, and invest to create a fully staffed and well-resourced Policy Unit.

He added: “Wilfred Mitchell played a key role in this work, especially in securing the resources to establish the Policy Unit itself.

"His tenure covered much of the first two decades of the devolved Assembly at Stormont, but the absence of an Executive presented an opportunity for FSB to implement extensive changes to the Policy Unit membership and have a new regime in place to engage with whichever politicians emerge as Northern Ireland's next administration. It is in this context that new ‘proactive' policy development will seek to inform and lead public policy.”

New chair Tina McKenzie, who heads up the £70m turnover outsource and recruitment group Staffline, said: “FSB has always excelled at reactive policy work, responding to consultations and the proposals of government and the parties.

"But there is now an opportunity to do much more proactive policy and advocacy, developing policies to improve the environment to help local businesses to thrive, which will be especially important as the Brexit negotiations move to their next phase.”

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