Newly appointed CBI Northern Ireland vice-chairman Ian Coulter gives us his list of priorities for the province’s economy for 2011
These are some of the key issues the CBI Northern Ireland see as developing in the year ahead:
Earlier this month, the CBI, along with other key business bodies such as the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Directors, launched its business manifesto entitled “The Jobs Plan”. It is no doubt ambitious in the current climate but it should form part of the discussion with the political parties going forward.
Consultations on the enterprise zone/corporation tax debate are to continue, and we will be aiming to respond to the Enterprise Zone White Paper over the coming weeks.
The key step is to obtain consensus that the Northern Ireland Assembly should seek devolved legislative powers in this area (a requirement under the Azores exemption).
If we can achieve this then we can have a fuller debate as to what should be done. We do not underestimate the difficulty in all of this but we must make the most of the political will shown to date.
ACCESS TO FINANCE
We are developing a policy paper focusing on alternative forms of finance for growth-orientated companies.
The announcement of the planned Venture Capital Fund (£30m) and the Co-investment Fund (£7.2m) by Invest NI are badly needed and welcomed.
However, the existing and planned total venture capital funding is currently around £47.2m for Northern Ireland for the period 2007-2012.
Compare this with the £125m venture capital fund that was raised in the north of England, the £185m venture capital fund for the north-west of England and the £150m venture capital investment fund in Wales all raised within the past 18 months.
The areas covered by these funds are similar in size to Northern Ireland and have also already had the benefit of much more private investment over the past 30 years.
All three of these funds were raised by the local regional development authorities in conjunction with European funds through the EIB.
In the Republic of Ireland, Enterprise Ireland has invested €320m of RoI public money into equity funds since 1994, leveraging a total of £1.2bn of Enterprise Ireland-supported investment funds. We will also be rolling out some initiatives to attract larger funds in the UK and beyond to take a closer look at Northern Ireland.
We need to continue to realign workforce skills with the needs of the economy.
As a result it is important that business plays a real part in the development of the revised Skills Strategy, ensuring education outputs are better lined up with our economic needs.
In addition, the feedback from our members is that maintaining a more flexible labour market is critical.
We will be identifying the key areas where the burden of regulations could be reduced, for example, could industrial tribunal processes be made faster, but still be fair for both employer and employee.
INFRASTRUCTURE SPEND AND PROCESS
Clearer visibility is needed in terms of the potential projects planned over the next two to four years to enable our construction sector to plan properly.
In terms of other infrastructure areas, Project Kelvin should provide a competitive advantage to us and particularly the north-west, and we must find ways to leverage this internationally.
In addition significant planning changes are in the pipeline and we look forward to seeing how these will operate on the ground.