Belfast Telegraph

Business Soapbox: Anne McGregor

A new Assembly and Executive working closely together, combined with a significant reduction in corporation tax, will give Northern Ireland's economy a much-needed freshness, says the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce CEO

The next four years could be most critical for the Northern Ireland economy in the last 100. The challenges and opportunities facing the region mean that we have the choice between becoming one of the world's most vibrant, productive and successful small open economies, or an increasingly stagnant and irrelevant peripheral market.

Over the last three weeks, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce has heard from the leaders of each of the five main political parties who have outlined their plans for jobs and growth. All are agreed that we need to increase the size of the private sector and that Northern Ireland has the potential to punch well above its weight in world markets. The next Assembly and Executive face hitherto unprecedented opportunities to grow and add value to the private sector - often the best businesses start during a recession, and the same applies to the best and smartest economies.

For Northern Ireland to succeed, the next Assembly and Executive must work together and four things must happen.

Lowering the rate of corporation tax is the most important step which can be taken to boost the private sector in Northern Ireland. This will allow local businesses to flourish and build strong export markets, and will make the region more attractive to investment. The current rate of public spending is not sustainable and a reduced level of public funding linked to a decrease in corporation tax will mean higher investment, growth and jobs in the private sector.

Introducing a Northern Ireland-wide Enterprise Zone which supports businesses of all sizes will ensure the region builds a solid growth level of indigenous business. They should feature 100% relief on regional and district rate for the first three years for new-starts and for a three-year period for companies with expansion plans, a simplified tax credit system and reduced rate of VAT on domestic property repairs.

Red-tape and administration has cost Northern Ireland business some £2.4bn. The next Executive should ensure that the wide range of government departments which interact with business make the process as streamlined and efficient as possible. The fact is that costly administration and regulation acts as a disincentive to employment and expansion, and hampers our global competitive advantage. At little or no cost the Government could make doing business infinitely easier.

Finally, an independent review of government expenditure and asset base could explore where efficiencies can be made and will ensure that Northern Ireland taxpayers get the very most from the government asset base.

Crucially this should include local government which has an increasingly important role to play in driving economic growth.

The challenges are significant, but the opportunities are huge.

The lowering of corporation tax means that our economy can become a beacon for regional economies across the globe - small, perfectly formed, and punching above well above its weight.

With the London Olympics giving Northern Ireland's boxers another global platform to bring home gold and silver medals, we must take the gloves off so NI plc can become a real 'pocket rocket'.

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