‘North needs new and ambitious permanent fiscal framework’ - NI Chamber President

Catriona McCusker says as well as supporting public services, any new funding arrangement must also enable investment to boost the economy

The new president of the Northern Ireland Chamber, Caitriona McCusker, addressing business stakeholders in Belfast City Hall on Friday.
The new president of the Northern Ireland Chamber, Caitriona McCusker, addressing business stakeholders in Belfast City Hall on Friday.

One of the north’s largest business bodies has called on the incoming UK government to back “a new and ambitious permanent fiscal framework” for Northern Ireland.

Addressing 400 business leaders in Belfast City Hall on Friday, just two weeks out from the General Election, the new NI Chamber president, Caitroina McCusker also called on government to work with the business sector to better define and articulate the north’s unique investment proposition to the world.

In a deal published last month, London agreed to a “needs based” top up to Stormont’s funding allocations via the Barnett Formula.

It followed an independent report from the NI Fiscal Council, which estimate Northern Ireland needs about £124 per head for every £100 per head spent in England to deliver public services at the same standard.

It’s estimated spending per head in the north has fallen to around £120 per head.

But the 24% top-up agreed last month is unlikely to bring Northern Ireland back to its level of need for around a decade.

Caitriona McCusker, who took over as the president of NI Chamber three weeks ago, told those gathered at Belfast City Hall that the north needs “a new and ambitious permanent” fiscal framework.

“One which not only sets a workable fiscal floor for Executive spending, but also enables investment to boost the economy,” she said.

“To instil confidence and drive more efficient public services, NI Chamber has also called for the Executive to agree an independent review of public spending.”

The PwC boss also said more can be done to promote the benefits of investing in Northern Ireland.

“We’ve got huge advantages – our talented people and propensity for innovation, an abundance of natural resources to support the secure supply of clean energy and unique dual market access,” she said.

“At NI Chamber, we’re very clear about the need to agree and articulate what our investment proposition looks like – and to shout so much louder about it.”

Ms McCusker also raised the long-standing issue of the north’s corporation tax rate, skills gaps, boosting innovation and maximising trading opportunities.

“We want to see the next government working with business across the UK to tackle near-market red tape in trade with GB, the Republic of Ireland and Europe and provide greater support for our businesses to access international markets,” she said.

“Critically, access to the right people with the right skills must be facilitated if we’re to develop the workplace and the workforce of the future.

“Effective migration and mobility policies aligned with regional economic need are a top requirement, along with long overdue support for childcare and reform of the Apprenticeship Levy.”