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Chamber confident conditions are right for economic growth

By Margaret Canning

Published 05/01/2016

Stephen McCully, president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Stephen McCully, president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Improved political and economic conditions mean the time is now right for economic growth in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said there was "real belief" that there was reason to be positive about 2016.

President Stephen McCully said November's Fresh Start political agreement provided "the prospect for the kind of political stability required to foster economic growth". And he said the "date and rate" for corporation would help attract "new high-end foreign investment".

But he said corporation tax alone was not enough to attract investment and said Invest NI should be funded so that it could fully market Northern Ireland's enhanced prospects following devolution of corporation tax.

And he insisted infrastructure must not be overlooked.

"Demand for Grade A office and industrial space is likely to intensify and infrastructure investment in transport hubs, airport access and better and faster links to Dublin must also become a priority," he said.

"Also, given the competition for labour in certain key sectors and occupations like ICT and engineering, shortages are likely to appear relatively quickly in Northern Ireland."

Investment in roads and public transport was crucial as currently much infrastructure was "sub-optimal".

Priorities for members included sorting out the bottleneck of the York Street interchange, as well as projects such as the A5 and A6.

"We hope 2016 is the year that such developments progress," Mr McCully said.

He said the Chamber looked forward to working with a new Department of the Economy, which would incorporate the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) as well as the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).

But he warned that student numbers must not be cut.

"We need to increase the size of our workforce to meet the demands of many industries and that means that 2016 is certainly not the time to reduce the number of students in our universities. To attract quality overseas investment we have to be able to offer quality employees in the right quantity."

And he said the Chamber was "cautiously optimistic".

He added: "Our series of quarterly economic surveys in 2015 showed that our members had a determination to grow and succeed but were frustrated by the stalled political process.

"These conditions will be better in 2016 and that allows for a better context for growth."

The president praised the leadership of Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor and said it would "continue to drive forward Northern Ireland plc".

Belfast Telegraph

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