Businesses increasingly shadow boxing in an atmosphere of uncertainty

The lack of a regional assembly and Executive means businesses are “increasingly shadow boxing in an atmosphere of uncertainty.”

The lack of a regional assembly and Executive means businesses are “increasingly shadow boxing in an atmosphere of uncertainty.”

That was the key messages delivered by Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Ellvena Graham to an audience of almost 850 members of the business community – including DUP Leader Arlene Foster; Sinn Fein Leader Michelle O’Neill; SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood; UUP Leader Robin Swann and Alliance Deputy Leader Dr Stephen Farry.

Ms Graham was speaking at the annual Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry President’s Banquet at Belfast Waterfront on 16 November 2017.

Addressing the current political situation, Ms Graham commented: “Businesses are increasingly shadow boxing in an atmosphere of uncertainty and require the support of active and engaged public representatives to boost their confidence at this critical time.

“It’s exactly 304 days since we had a functioning Executive – that’s 304 days without political leadership or a social strategy or an economic strategy.

“The draft programme for Government published at the end of last year and aimed at creating a better society – is covered in cobwebs. Control of the Northern Ireland budget is out of our hands and is now being set at Westminster.

“We are currently in some sort of limbo between a local Executive and full-blown Direct Rule. We know from daily contact with businesses large and small and across all sectors that the return of the Assembly is the preferred outcome – a regional government addressing regional needs.”

Ms Graham continued to outline how one of those needs is about addressing Northern Ireland’s unique difficulties around Brexit. She commented: “Five months ago, in my first speech as President, I pointed out that everyone seemed to be preparing for Brexit except Northern Ireland and I asked – what is our plan? I’m still waiting for the answer.

“Our land border with the EU means Northern Ireland is right at the centre of the Brexit negotiations – yet those discussions are going on without a cohesive Northern Ireland voice being heard directly.

“But who is speaking for us? Who is asking the Government for clarity and coherence on its Brexit negotiating position and how it sees our future relationship with the EU? There has been some clarity in recent position papers but there are still many gaps.”

Aside from Brexit, Ms Graham also highlighted a number of other economic issues that need to be addressed. She commented: “We need to invest in our universities and colleges to bring their resources in line with the rest of the UK; in initiatives that support the long term unemployed to return to work and in infrastructure to help move people and products easier and more cost-effectively. Finally, we must see investment in additional fiscal powers to boost our economy including City Deals, Air passenger Duty and implementing the long awaited corporation tax powers.”

The annual NI Chamber President’s Banquet was one of the largest business galas ever to be held in Northern Ireland.

Billed as a celebration of ‘engineering in motion’, the event celebrated Northern Ireland’s engineering prowess throughout the evening, with guest speaker Richard Hammond, best known for co-hosting the BBC2 car programme Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson and James May and also Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour.

The President’s Banquet was supported by NI Chamber’s Communications Partner BT and supporting sponsors 4c Executive; Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council; Thales and Tughans.

Paul Murnaghan, Regional Director at BT Business NI, commented: “As one of the world’s leading communications and IT services companies, we are proud of our continued investment in helping Northern Ireland compete in these times of change and challenge.

“Technological innovation is integral to the development of our economy and society and we are committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland businesses and citizens are best placed to take advantage of all that technology offers.

“We look forward to further collaboration with the Chamber to ensure the wider business community speaks with a strong voice during these ever changing times.”