Northern Ireland’s business leaders today make an impassioned plea to the Stormont Executive to get its act together and help stave off the impact of the looming recession.
The appeal, contained in an open letter published in today’s Belfast Telegraph, comes 132 days since the Executive met on June 19.
Since then the DUP and Sinn Fein have been deadlocked, and urgent spending decisions which could help the province’s economy have been shelved.
The letter, signed by leaders of organisations such as CBI Northern Ireland, the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) said the economy faced “serious and fundamental” problems.
The letter is a clear sign of growing frustration within the business community over the protracted failure of the Executive to meet.
The business leaders said: “Consumer and business confidence have fallen sharply in recent weeks. Unemployment rose sharply last month and further rises are inevitable. The global financial crisis is now impacting on the real economy, with additional challenges being created by rising energy prices.”
“Key skills and experience, already in short supply, are also being lost. Confidence within the private sector is manifestly in decline. The consequences for policymakers and the business community aiming to strengthen the private sector could be far reaching.”
The business organisations called for strong leadership and put forward an eight-point plan to regenerate the economy.
The key demands were:
- A speedy roll-out of capital projects from the Investment Strategy giving the green light to infrastructure projects such as new roads, schools, sports facilities and tourist amenities.
- Give approval to economic regeneration schemes such as the Maze, Crumlin Road jail and Fort George in Londonderry.
- Publish implementation plans for health and education facilities — already six months late.
- Reform planning system to speed up delivery of new projects.
- Increase funding for education and skills, including new careers strategy.
- Sharpen focus on reform of the public sector.
- Make investment in energy efficiency.
- Review availability of resources to ensure small companies can invest in innovation and exports.
The letter read: “The business community is eager to work with the Executive on a strategy and measures that will stimulate the economy, rebuild confidence and encourage the risk taking by the private sector required for sustainable growth.
“We believe the challenge that must be addressed urgently is how to reduce the severity and duration of the recession.”
The letter comes two days after the CEF warned that 8,000 jobs have already been lost in the construction sector, and that 22,000 jobs were at risk in the province.
The signatories were: John Armstrong (CEF), Nigel Smyth (CBI), Linda Brown (IoD), Bob Craig, Chartered Institute of Building, George Coulter, Construction Industry Group, Wendy Blundell, Institution of Civil Engineers, Michael Wightman, NI Manufacturing and Gordon Best, Quarry Products Association.