Onus on CBI to be at forefront of delivering prosperity for future generations

After 25 years of peace in Northern Ireland, we owe it to the next generations to have another 25 years of prosperity
After 25 years of peace in Northern Ireland, we owe it to the next generations to have another 25 years of prosperity

CBI's new director-general Rain Newton-Smith made the point recently that the news can make for bleak reading for those committed to inclusive workplaces - and I couldn’t agree more. I also echo her conclusion that it feels as though the country is mired in an epidemic of discrimination and harassment against women and minority groups.

The CBI accepts its place among those organisations that have failed in keeping their people safe. It can, must, and will do better. I’m now working closely with our London team to put inclusive change at the heart of the CBI’s agenda. The past few weeks have seen the CBI begin an extensive and unflinching process of reflection and self-examination. We hope that in doing so, and by being brutally honest about the ways we need to change, we can build trust in the fact that this will never happen again. ??

We can’t turn the clock back, but we can hopefully show how a modern organisation needs to act when it fails to meet the employment standards it should. There should be no mistaking the fact that the CBI is committed to change and moving to the ‘gold standard’ for employee protections.??There will be no stone unturned when it comes to employer and employee best practice behaviours. ?

The board has promised a transformation of corporate culture and that is now under way. The new director general sees this as an ongoing process, one without end and one subject to constant review and reflection. In so many areas, the danger of complacency is clear for all to see.???

So what are we doing????

With the help of experienced experts, including the appointment of a chief people officer, we are transforming the way we operate. Governance is being overhauled to ensure greater accountability, recruitment is being reviewed to focus on core values, and members and other businesses are being offered greater opportunities to shape our direction. Nothing is off the table when it comes to promoting inclusivity at every level. ???

Members can however rest assured that the things they like and value most – the reach, the research and the convening power of the CBI – will remain the same. If anything, we will build on and enhance those core strengths.??

The CBI’s membership – in Northern Ireland and beyond – remains large and diverse. Our local working groups that convene on issues such as energy, decarbonisation, infrastructure, skills and economic strategy are highly valued by both members and government. They get to the heart of business issues and move the dial in terms of local policy and wider understanding of these issues.? The CBI’s economic policy unit draws on half a century of proprietary economic data to produce respected surveys and analyses, taking the pulse of business and informing sound decision-making.

The CBI retains an essential role within the economy and public life, by speaking up for all businesses.?

Every country needs an overarching business voice that can advocate with government, devolved administrations and beyond, for policies to support sustainable growth and improve living standards.???

Whether working with over 150 UK-wide trade associations spanning farming to tech, other leading UK business organisations, policy-makers, NGOs or firms from disparate industries, we are at our best when we use our platform to bring voices together.

It’s an approach we have applied successfully on issues that matter to the local economy, such as the NI Protocol /Windsor Agreement; investments in key infrastructure, such as the grid, water and EV charging; skills deficits; planning issues; as well as connectivity across and between the two islands.??

Our track record in delivering value is strong. That is why our membership retention rate has historically sat at 98 per cent. ?

From the ‘super deduction’ initiative in the Budget, furlough to childcare and energy support, we’re proud to have been at the forefront of policies that protect jobs, keep businesses afloat and contribute to the local economy.????

Even so, we can’t afford to be stuck in the past and I was reminded of this at the Queen’s University ‘Agreement 25’ conference that marked the Good Friday Agreement.???

Alongside senior representatives from Translink, Tourism NI, NI Chamber, the NI Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) and Belfast Harbour, we discussed how Northern Ireland’s economy has come on in leaps and bounds since 1998, and how our full economic and inward investment potential has yet to be unlocked. We have come a long way, but we must be more ambitious.? We must show the tenacity and ambition of the leaders who brokered the Good Friday Agreement. After 25 years of peace, we owe it to the next generations to have another 25 years of prosperity.??

The onus is now on the CBI to be at the forefront of delivering that growth for future generations, whether that’s in technology, decarbonisation or life sciences. We’re already speaking to start-up founders, chief executives and campaigners to identify and nurture the trail-blazing firms that will shape our country’s future. We are also a voice for the innovators, disrupters and architects of sustainable economic growth.

There’s so much to do here in Northern Ireland and my brilliant local team, are committed to doing that, just as we are ready to lead the fight on restoring devolved government and boosting economic prosperity across every corner of Northern Ireland.?

:: Angela McGowan is director of CBI Northern Ireland