New 'politics of the possible' spells victory for business certainty

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was returned to power with an increased majority - and to the relief of businesses 'will now get Brexit done'
Gary McDonald Business Editor

FROM farmers to pharmas, makers to shakers, we're finally entering a period of politics of the possible . . .

Forget for a moment the contentious issue of the Irish border, good tariffs, or fears that the fabric of the union might be unravelling.

Don't give a second's thought either to where the next billion quid might be coming from now that the 'confidence and supply agreement' has been shredded and the DUP have gone from kingmakers to a spent force (at least on the green benches).

No. For businesses in the north, this is the first full day they're waking up to an unblocked Brexit process. And after this bruising victory for certainty, finally there might be the opportunity to plan ahead.

With the Tories handed a clear mandate to govern, companies can now prepare safe in the knowledge that the UK will leave the EU at the end of January in an orderly way as set out in the withdrawal agreement. You could almost hear their collective sighs of relief.

In this newly reshaped political landscape, businesses desperately wanted to see confidence rebuilt and a clear direction set so they can unleash those pent-up investment plans currently sitting on hold (and start running down those stockpiles).

“After three and a half years of gridlock, the cycle of uncertainty can finally be broken, and employers are now ready to collaborate with government to make the local economy work for everyone,” according to CBI's regional head Angela McGowan (who was actually a banker when the EU referendum took place).

But NI Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann McGregor cautioned: “When businesses are held back by Brexit uncertainty, high up-front costs, skills gaps, and poor infrastructure, we can expect growth to be mediocre at best.

“So at this critical moment, details matter. Government needs to get both the signals and the substance right – and give businesses the confidence to invest. This is particularly important for Northern Ireland given the continuing dip in business confidence and a belief that we are entering a recession.”

So is the money there to give businesses and the north's economy an immediate leg up? Well, yes there is, according to economist Esmond Birnie.

He says there will be 'a positive Barnett consequential' as the purse strings are loosened (though don't expect a tidal wave of private sector investment).

The Tory manifesto did indicate a £25 billion increase in annual UK public spending by the end of this Parliament, so even a modest Barnett share of 2.5 per cent of that would see public spending in the north boosted by more than £600m a year (eclipsing the £450m a year of extra spending for two years during the confidence and supply agreement).

Dr Birnie says: “The extra money looks like an unqualified blessing and might even help persuade the two largest parties here to get back together in government.

“But there may be challenges - notably, does the Northern Ireland public sector/civil service have enough capacity to process a sudden growth in activity?”

So as we enter an entirely different era of politics in London (we haven't been used to such stability in more than a decade), businesses have got their early Christmas present in a potential overdue a period of certainty which can help them thrive. Now just do it . . . .

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