Business

'Businesses cannot trade with uncertainty' - NI Chamber president in plea to political leaders

President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, Paul Murnaghan.

ONE of the north’s biggest business groups has called for political stability at Stormont and urged the UK and EU to progress talks around the Northern Ireland Protocol without triggering Article 16.

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce represents around 1,000 firms.

In a New Year’s statement, its president, Paul Murnaghan said the recent moves, including Almac’s announcement of 1,800 new jobs "are evidence of the unique opportunities of dual market access”.

He said: “Throughout the Brexit process, NI Chamber has been guided by members.

“Almost 70 per cent of which have told us they believe that Northern Ireland’s unique status now presents opportunities for the region.”

The regional director of BT Business in Northern Ireland, Mr Murnaghan said “serious issues” around the protocol still need to be resolved, particularly in respect of supply chain costs and delays.

But he added: “If policy makers can resolve these issues quickly and in partnership with business, Northern Ireland finds itself at the starting blocks of a unique opportunity at a time when we really need it.”

Mr Murnghan boss also said the UK Government must compensate for the region’s loss of EU funding: “Businesses need assurance that this funding will be safeguarded through UK replacement supports, including the Levelling Up Fund.”

In a clear reference to recent political brinkmanship around the protocol, the BT boss warned the north’s political leaders that “businesses cannot trade with uncertainty”.

With the countdown now on for the next Assembly election in May, he said: “The need for political stability from our elected representatives cannot be overstated.

“During a time of such unprecedented challenge, strong, stable devolved government is absolutely business critical.”

The NI Chamber President said the arrival of the Omicron variant in December has made the need for stability all the more crucial.

“Many firms are still dealing with the compound impact of new trading arrangements, uncertainty around the protocol, restrictions, supply-chain difficulties, transport delays/increased costs and labour shortages,” he said.

And while a £40 million grant support scheme was announced for the hospitality sector on December 23, Mr Murnaghan described the impact of the surge in Omicron cases on the sector as “unprecedented”

He said the sector “needs sufficient support to compensate for the lack of business during this time”.

In terms of infrastructure investment, the NI Chamber president said the north had fallen behind its competitors.

He said: “An all-island strategy that aligns with the Shared Island Fund announced by the Irish Government is required and should include roads, rail, air, sea, waste, digital and energy connectivity.”

Mr Murnaghan also called for business and the economy to be “front and centre” of the next Executive and for Stormont’s new Skills Strategy to be backed with funding.

He said the legacy of a shortage in skills in the north had been exacerbated during the pandemic.

“NI Chamber welcomed the Skills Strategy and supports the establishment of the Skills Council,” he said. “But until appropriate funding is in place, change on the scale that we need simply won’t be achieved.”

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