Business alliance Trade NI republishes economic paper - and gets Stormont apology

Trade NI heads Stephen Kelly (Manufacturing NI), Colin Neill (Hospitality Ulster) and Glyn Roberts (Retail NI) pictured at the Long Gallery with Stormont economy committee chair Dr Caoimhe Archibald and deputy-chair Sinead McLaughlin. Photo: Darren Kidd/PressEye
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE north's business community has been praised by a prominent Stormont MLA for "finding its own voice during the years when politicians weren't sitting".

And economy committee deputy-chair Sinead McLaughlin, who herself worked in business, latterly serving as chief executive of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, issued an apology for three years of "this place letting the business community down".

She was speaking at reception in Parliament Buildings - the first economic policy event since the resumption of the Assembly last month - to mark the local launch of the Vision 2030 document by the Trade NI group.

An alliance between Hospitality Ulster, Manufacturing NI and Retail NI, the body first released its "big, bold and ambitious" 10-year plan at Westminster in September.

The republished document sets out key policy priorities with the potential to create 65,000 jobs and, the coalition believes its contains economically transformative proposals which, if implemented, can help make the north's economy thrive and grow.

Trade NI's three joint chief executives Colin Neill, Stephen Kelly and Glyn Roberts - dubbed 'The Three Musketeers' by Ms McLaughlin - were united yesterday in demanding that urgent action is required to reboot the north's ailing economy.

In front of First Minister Arlene Foster, Economy Minister Diane Dodds, more than a dozen MLAs and prominent members of the business community, all three addressed the 'Northern Ireland Economy - What Now? event at the Long Gallery.

Glyn Roberts of Retail NI, representing a sector which employs 140,000 people in the north, was particularly scathing of the recent rates revaluation, which he labelled "an absolute disgrace" and which he warned had the potential to put scores of long-established independent traders to the wall.

"Does Land and Property Services have any idea of the impact of this revaluation? We already have the highest rates in the UK, and LPS has turned what was already a crisis into an emergency," he said.

He urged the Assembly not merely to return to 'business as usual', but to take the opportunity as legislators to be change-makers and to make the north an eco-system of innovation, where businesses can thrive.

"The Executive's programme for government needs to be more than just a deal between the five parties, and instead it should include the key partners in the economy such as business and the wider civic society," he added.

Colin Neill (Hospitality Ulster) said business has been "held back by legislation with outdated licensing laws" and "crippled by a business rates model that actually punishes hard work and investment", and called for a "modern, simple, fair and effective new legislative framework".

And manufacturing head Stephen Kelly said the "cycle of limited economic growth" must be broken to allow potential investment to flow into Northern Ireland.

"What is required is 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 high streets and creating an economy, which can deliver for working families."

The heads of Stormont's economy committee also spoke at the event, with chair Dr Caoimhe Archibald welcoming the Vision 2030 document and pledging to engage with the Trade NI body.

Deputy chair Sinead McLaughlin, commending Trade NI for publishing the document, added: "There are only two years left of this sitting Assembly, so we must use that time to make an impact."

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