Belfast Telegraph

Clear and decisive leadership is need from Northern Ireland Assembly

By Dawn Johnston

By the end of this week, like many others, we will press the 'send' button on our submission to the Draft Programme for Government.

This isn't some dry or academic exercise. It will shape the way the devolved administration carries out its work programme and, ultimately, determine the success or failure of this current Assembly mandate.

So, setting to one side the current controversy and crisis that has the Stormont Executive in a vice-like grip, our ministers have laid down a simple, if uncompromising challenge. Judge us on deeds not words, they said, but the opening six months or so of this Assembly have failed to deliver any spectacular successes.

Ministers are caught up in a vortex at a time when in-trays are creaking under the weight of the workload.

Take Brexit, for example, or corporation tax, or the now overdue Budget. Brexit poses some serious and fundamental questions for Northern Ireland. The vote to leave the EU has the propensity to cause division or deliver advantage and benefit.

Will there be a soft or hard border with the Republic and how might either scenario affect both jurisdictions? Will it lead to a re-defined relationship? Are exemptions or exceptions possible? Are trade tariffs feasible and what will it mean in the labour market?

These are some of the questions that ought to be occupying the minds of ministers and their senior advisers as, from opposing positions, they try to build some common ground.

The devolution of corporation tax remains relevant. This power to vary the rate holds out the prospect of offering a significant advantage to Invest NI in the highly competitive businesses of attracting scarce foreign direct investment. We need certainty on what the rate will be and how it will work.

Will corporation tax be the boon we all seek or will its punch be softened by the commitment nationally to reduce the rate? Again, a big piece of work for those who sit at the Stormont table.

Our budget has been delayed, and delayed again and that's not good. It sends negative signals about the administration and its ability to function in a cohesive, joined-up way.

All we can do is hope that whatever is causing the delay is sorted out - and quickly.

We also need to see progress on improving Northern Ireland productivity to help us compete more effectively.

Our members would also like to see a concerted effort being made to boost innovation and retain talent rather than seeing it leave our shores.

In short, we need clear and decisive leadership.

Ulster Society has 4,000 members and is uniquely qualified to deliver valuable, qualitative insights into how business, industry, public and third sectors are performing and the measures they believe are essential to deliver tangible benefit.

As a district society of Chartered Accountants Ireland, with a 25,000 membership, we are a professional body standing ready to lend a helping hand to an administration that could do with some support.

*Dawn Johnston is chair of Chartered Accountants Ulster Society

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