Business groups lobby Westminster for 'radical change to failing economic policy'
THREE local business organisations held one of the biggest Northern Ireland events at Westminster last night in a bid to drive economic prosperity in the north and urge a return to regional government.
Retail NI, Hospitality Ulster and Manufacturing NI united to produce an economic policy document entitled ‘A New Deal for Northern Ireland’, which was officially launched at a House of Commons reception.
More than 250 MPs, peers, diplomats and a delegation of business owners attended the event, with speakers including Secretary of State Karen Bradley, Shadow Secretary Tony Lloyd and local MPs Jeffrey Donaldson and Paul Maskey.
The extensive economic policy document outlines key issues affecting members of the three business groups, with the document calling for a reboot of economic policy to ensure the north enjoys "a high growth rate, ambitious levels of productivity and more and better jobs".
Within the joint plan of action, there is a call for Westminster to set a firm date of April 2021 for the introduction of a Northern Ireland rate of 12.5 per cent corporation tax in the absence of a devolved government.
The document also references the reduction of tourism VAT, the abolition of air passenger duty and the "rapid increase" in infrastructure investment and delivery, including the A5 and A6 roads projects.
In relation to Brexit the paper states that all potential negative consequences, including customs costs and tariffs, employment visas, market authorisations and border infrastructure must be avoided.
Reference was made to skills development "from apprenticeship to leadership", while the three organisations have re-iterated calls for an "immediate return" of the Stormont Assembly and Executive with a "refreshed economic strategy, energy strategy, skills programme and business-friendly planning system capable of speedy turnaround of large-scale applications, with a fast track process to address the legislative backlog".
The chief executives of the three business organisations - Glyn Roberts, Colin Neill and Stephen Kelly - issued a joint statement at the reception.
They said: “Despite our political difficulties at Stormont, our central message is that we have a vibrant business community which is still very much open for business. We have a shared ambition of making Northern Ireland the best place in the UK to shop, socialise and to start or locate a business.
“As we approach 600 days of no government, we need to see action. Northern Ireland is falling behind and it’s time decision-takers and policy-makers act to introduce radical change to our failing economic policy.
"We believe that redistributing some of the money earmarked for corporation tax to skills, infrastructure and struggling small businesses will help to stimulate major economic growth.
“Rates reform is absolutely critical to the future of the economy. Many small traders are struggling to pay their rate bills and we are calling for the largest ever rate relief of £100 million to support our town and city centres and ensure small business owners can reinvest more of their own money into growing their business and employing more staff."