24/05/2019

Retail NI Call For Business Focused Executive

As Northern Ireland's political leaders engage in a further round of negotiations aimed at ending the political stalemate, retail chief Glyn Roberts is demanding that any reestablished Executive be more focused on delivering for businesses.

Writing about the need to reboot Northern Ireland plc, Mr Roberts said the new Stormont institutions must be more agile, strategic and delivery-focused.

"The world has moved on since we last had a working government at Stormont. Brexit uncertainty, climate change and trade wars are huge challenges to the UK economy and will impact on Northern Ireland.

"That is why a restored Assembly and Executive need to be rebooted and become less about process and more about delivery. It cannot be business as usual with a few tweaks here and there - we must see real change.

"We have heard in recent years about creating a Northern powerhouse in England –so how do we create a Northern Ireland economic powerhouse? How do we achieve a 5% growth rate instead of bumping along at less than 1%?

"How do we make Northern Ireland the best place in the UK and Ireland to shop, socialise, locate and to start a business? What do we need to do to make Northern Ireland an eco-system of innovation?

"Fundamentally, what should our region have achieved economically, socially and politically by 2030? Big questions like these require big answers from our political leaders."

Mr Roberts welcomed the positive outcomes delivered during the ten years of devolution, such as the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme, Town Centre First Retail Planning Policy and Business Improvement Districts, which he believes helped advance the region's economy.

"But we need much, much more if we are to deliver the answer to my previous questions," the retail chief continued.

"Part of the answer lies in how we formulate policy. Retail NI wants to see a more agile, strategic and delivery - focused Executive. So how do we achieve this?

"Stormont needs to operate like any other coalition administration with collective responsibility and an adequately funded and effective opposition. Inclusive power sharing will always be the bottom line, but a new Executive needs to move away from just being about conflict management and deliver more tangible change.

"Every other Coalition Government agrees a draft Programme for Government first and then decides which party gets which ministries. Under the current system they do it the other way around which has lead in the past to poor collective responsibility, a departmental silo mentality and weak policy development."

Mr Roberts recommended the establishment of a Programme for Government sub-group, which would aid the efficiency of a new administration.

Along with Hospitality Ulster and Manufacturing NI, the organisation has called for a fourth strand to be added to the talks to include key civic society organisations, to foster a partnership with political parties in rebooting the economic agenda.

He explained: "The Programme for Government needs to be more than just a deal between five parties and instead should also include the key partners in the economy, such as business, trade unions, local councils and the voluntary sector. We shouldn't be seen as just consultees but as essential partners in the delivery of prosperity for Northern Ireland."

Retail NI's recently published 'Regeneration NI' plan set out a number of priorities for a new Programme for Government. These are:

• Fundamental change to the broken and antiquated system of business rates

• Infrastructure investment- establishment of a Rural Town & Village Infrastructure Fund, airport growth, high-speed rail service between Belfast & Dublin

• Rural small business strategy- to support existing businesses and the next generation of SMEs

• Strategy for the six further education colleges.

Mr Roberts said: "All of this will cost money. But if we are ever to break the cycle of limited economic growth and realise our true potential, then we a need a major investment by the British Government and possibly the Irish Government and the EU to make this happen. To enable a new Stormont administration to tackle all of these challenges a Prosperity Investment Fund should be established as part of a new Good Friday Agreement for the 21st century.

"While money is important, it is leadership above all else that we need. Now more than ever do we need our political leaders to lead the way with big bold solutions and to take the difficult decisions. Real leaders do not see problems; they seek solutions.

"I want to see a Northern Ireland, which is an outward looking, confident, tolerant, welcoming and inclusive region that has something to give to the rest of the world. It can be done."



(JG/MH)

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