OPINION: Plotting a way ahead in the post-election landscape

Newly elected SDLP MPs Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna with NI Secretary of State Julian Smith on the first day of Stormont talks. Picture by Mark Marlow
By Glyn Roberts

AS we survey the post election landscape, there are two immediate priorities for the business community in Northern Ireland.

Firstly, we need to step up engagement with the UK and Irish Governments to ensure significant changes to the EU Withdrawal Deal and secondly, get behind efforts to restore devolution.

With the Prime Minister winning an eighty-seat majority, this withdrawal deal is going ahead and sadly we are leaving the EU next month.

The key challenge for business is to ensure the very rough edges of this deal are removed and that we have no trade border in the Irish Sea.

Retail NI has concerns that this deal will result in increased costs, complexity and checks and paperwork for moving goods back and forth across the Irish Sea.

Leaked Treasury slides describe how this deal could increase the price of high street goods in Northern Ireland and also affect the profitability of retailers. All of this will have a huge impact on the just-in-time supply chain which is so important to the retail sector in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State and his Ministers need to step up engagement with the business community and ensure our voice is heard and the necessary changes are made to the deal.

Turning to last week's election, one message above all else is that the people of Northern Ireland shouted loud and clear that we need Stormont restored and the local parties need to get back to work. No more excuses.

But a restored Assembly and Executive cannot be business as usual.

It needs to be radically rebooted and become less about process and more about delivery.

Stormont needs to operate like any other coalition administration with collective responsibility and an adequately funded and effective opposition. Inclusive power sharing will always be the bottom line, but a new Executive needs to move away from just being about conflict management and deliver more tangible change.

Its Programme for Government needs to be more than just a deal between five parties and instead should also include the key partners in the economy, such as business, trade unions, local councils and the voluntary sector.

We shouldn't be seen as just consultees, but as essential partners in the delivery of prosperity for Northern Ireland.

Retail NI believes in a strong, diverse and sustainable economy, which is essential for a prosperous society, vibrant communities and well-funded public services.

Providing an environment where business can thrive and grow is imperative to the strength of our economy.

Reducing the cost of doing business, reforming business rates, investing in our infrastructure, developing skills, increasing our productivity and finding innovative new ways of stimulating investment, revitalising our communities and creating an economy which can deliver for working families.

Now more than ever we need our political leaders to lead the way with big bold solutions and to take the difficult decisions.

Real leaders do not see problems; they seek solutions.

I want to see a Northern Ireland, which is an outward looking, confident, tolerant, welcoming and an inclusive region that has something to give to the rest of the world.

It can be done.

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