May's new industrial strategy 'can help cure north's productivity problem'

Prime Minister Theresa May meets business leaders in Daresbury as she launched her industrial strategy for post-Brexit UK with a promise to take an active role in backing business
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BUSINESS leaders in the north insist British prime minister Theresa May's new economic blueprint for a post-Brexit UK can be a golden opportunity to help deal with the region's low productivity problem - a persistent feature of the Northern Ireland economy.

Mrs May and her Cabinet met in Cheshire to discuss a new approach for the UK as it prepares to exit the European single market. Plans include a £556 million boost for the so-called "northern powerhouse", an overhaul of technical education and £170m cash for a new emphasis on science, technology, engineering and innovation.

She said it was vital to drive growth across the whole of the UK, adding: "We must ensure we are building on the strengths of different parts of our economy and different parts of the UK, and that we see prosperity and opportunity spread across the country so everybody has opportunities to get on in life.

"As we leave the European Union we want to ensure that we are that truly global Britain with an economy that is in the right shape for the future and driving that growth, so that we really do have an economy in the country that works for everyone.

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Ann McGregor said she particularly welcomed the strategy’s commitment to engaging with local stakeholders.

"The Chamber network has engaged extensively with the Department of Business for a strong emphasis on place, rather than a purely sectoral based approach. By doing so, it allows the government to take advantage of the differences and unique strengths that exist across the country.


“We now look forward to engaging with James Brokenshire to ensure Northern Ireland benefits fully from the strategy. This includes the government’s proposal to establish ministerial forums with each of the devolved administrations to consider how the industrial strategy can best address key productivity barriers.


“Low productivity has been a persistent feature of our economy, with output per hour worked here remaining the lowest of the 12 UK regions, lagging 19 per cent behind the UK average. The gap has been persistent and widening for many years despite being the target of a number of economic strategies.


“We hope Northern Ireland’s new economic strategy, which must be a key priority for the next Executive, can work alongside the industrial strategy to address this issue.”

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association head Glyn Roberts said: “It's crucial a restored Executive and the local business sector engage with the UK government on its new industrial strategy to ensure our economy is ready for the huge challenge of the post Brexit environment.


“We welcome the fact the strategy includes a sector deal for retail and look forward to working with other retail trade associations to ensure our members’ voice is heard.”

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