'Immediate action needed to reinvigorate north's stagnant economy' warns chamber president

NI Chamber president, John Healy
NI Chamber president, John Healy NI Chamber president, John Healy

BUSINESSES in the north need to see “immediate, substantial action to reinvigorate our stagnant economy”, NI Chamber president John Healy has said.

In a new year statement, the senior business figure called on politicians to an end “vague pronouncements” in 2020, and offer “renewed focus on the details that matter”.

Speaking at the mid-way point in his two-year tenure as president, the Allstate boss said that businesses want to see new infrastructure built in 2020, along with new action to boost skills and cut the cost of doing business here.

NI Chamber represents more than 1,200 firms across the north, which together employ around 100,000 people.

Reflecting on a tumultuous year amid political and economic uncertainty, Mr Healy said that in the wake of the general election result, 2020 will in some ways offer businesses more certainty.

“As they plan for the year ahead, our members need confidence, starting with a shift in tone from our leaders, away from the politics that hindered 2019."

But he said: “The Brexit uncertainty, when added to the damage caused by the lack of an Executive at Stormont, means the local economy is also likely to deteriorate in the months ahead.

“Government must therefore move fast to boost the confidence of businesses, consumers and investors. Businesses need to see immediate, substantial action to reinvigorate our stagnant economy, build new infrastructure, boost skills and lower the cost of doing business in 2020. We need an end to vague pronouncements, and a renewed focus on the details that matter.”

With Prime Minister Boris Johnston expected to see his Brexit deal sail through the House of Commons, Mr Healy warned that getting the detail of Brexit right is far more important than simply getting it done.

“Vital details still need to be negotiated with the EU around future trade arrangements and unless a comprehensive UK-EU trade agreement is in place by the end of next year, businesses could once again face a cliff-edge – and seismic changes to trading conditions equivalent to a no-deal exit.

“The incoming government must still act to avoid a messy and disorderly exit from the European Union, and to give businesses the clear, detailed information that they require to navigate the coming changes.”

With talks resuming at Stormont on Thursday, the NI Chamber president further warned that another Assembly election would exacerbate the problems facing business, education and health.

“The business community needs an Executive making decisions, now,” he said. “This is a time when we need mature leadership - leaders with vision and a willingness to compromise and help navigate the path to the future.

“Our leaders must stretch themselves to reach a compromise and see the institutions restored on a credible and long-term basis.

“We look forward to working with future Ministers as they begin to address the damage caused by three years of paralysis at Stormont.”

Mr Healy concluded: “Businesses need tangible evidence that words will be backed up with deeds, and a real sense that they are not just being listened to, but also heard. It is only through partnership – businesses, community leaders and government working together – that we will achieve the growth and future success that we all want to see.”