Business Soapbox: Ann McGregor
Northern Ireland faces the biggest economic crisis in its history but every difficulty brings an opportunity. By devolving corporation-tax powers we can encourage indigenous firms and create sustainable high-value employment
The current economic crisis is the most challenging in the history of Northern Ireland. With over 1,000 members, including sole-traders, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and multinationals, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce continues to support its members through these challenging times. Although there are no Northern Ireland-specific figures on GDP growth, the measurement used to indicate recession, key indicators for the region, including, employment and export remain sluggish.
Our latest quarterly economic survey, which included responses from over 400 members, gave a strong indication that while the services and manufacturing sectors show some signs of growth, many businesses continue to face ongoing difficulties. The manufacturing sector is facing pressure from increased raw material costs which are resulting in modest expectations of increased prices.
Any period of difficulty can herald a period of opportunity and it is vital that growth-enhancing initiatives for businesses of all sizes are given support. A reduced rate of corporation tax is the single biggest opportunity in a generation to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy. This will encourage foreign investment and support growth in indigenous firms thereby creating sustainable, high value-added employment.
Another key element to rebalancing our economy is an increase in our export base. The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce identified a number of barriers to export in a survey last year and recently launched Export First, a unique initiative which aims to help companies venture into new export markets. Along with our partners, Northern Bank, A&L Goodbody and ASM, Export First includes a range of programmes which will help companies who have not previously exported develop the capacity to do so.
Initiatives like Export First show the commitment of the private sector in our efforts to rebalance the economy. By devolving corporation tax powers, London can help us shed the legacy of the past. The Executive can ensure that businesses enjoy a level playing field and are given an opportunity to flourish.
Ann McGregor is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce