Belfast Telegraph

Election 2017: Stormont 'must secure solid budget in wake of election to ensure economic stability in Northern Ireland'

By John Mulgrew

An Executive which is stable and can deliver an urgent budget for Northern Ireland is key to economic development, business leaders are telling the political parties here.

And while the majority of Northern Ireland's political parties each support long-running requests from business groups and companies, such as the cutting of corporation tax - each has outlined its own priorities to the electorate, ahead of next Thursday's vote.

Northern Ireland Chamber president Nick Coburn said the group has been "heartened by what we have heard in terms of their views on the economy".

He added: "So far none of the leaders of the political parties have expressed any degree of opposition to any of our priorities, even if they may differ on the most appropriate means of getting to the outcome we all want."

The organisation hosted a series of talks with each of the main parties here, beginning with DUP leader Arlene Foster.

The chamber said the biggest concerns and issues for its members is an "urgent" agreement on a budget, an emphasis on "exports and providing support for business", prioritising skills, building large infrastructure projects and being able to agree a "single voice and message on Brexit".

"However, above all, we need a stable Executive, an end to on/off politics and an agreed focus on the role of economic growth and development," Mr Coburn said.

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein have set an ambitious target of creating 50,000 jobs over the next few years, and, like Alliance and the SDLP, support reducing corporation tax here.

However, the Green Party is opposed to cutting the rate to 12.5%, instead believing that the revenue raised from the duty could instead go towards funding a new 'Green Deal' - a programme that it claims would sustain up to 15,000 jobs.

The main division between the political parties here heading in to the last election in May was Brexit.

The DUP was the only party to support the UK leaving the EU. Since the vote to exit, party leader Arlene Foster says while "there is huge potential outside the EU" it is important that Northern Ireland gets the "right deal".

Mike Nesbitt, UUP: Energy plan essential for Northern Ireland

The Ulster Unionist Party, headed by Mike Nesbitt, is among the majority of parties here which support reducing corporation tax.

It believes the next Programme for Government should be supported by a manufacturing strategy, a new energy policy, with a refocus on research and development to “broaden our skills base and empower the next generation with the know-how to succeed in a rapidly changing employment market”.

And in the tourism sector, it wants to see a  “more level playing field for our airports regarding air passenger duty and removing the barriers tourists face including arcane entertainment licensing laws”.

It’s targeting 2% growth in the economy, increasing manufacturing to 20% of output, and a £20bn in value of exports here.

On its manufacturing strategy, the party says the loss of quality jobs must be addressed by an Executive with a plan.

The pro-Remain party also wants unfettered access to the EU single market, and to ensure there is no hard border with the Republic.

Arlene Foster, DUP: Cutting corporation tax key for business

The DUP considers itself a very ‘pro-business’ party in Northern Ireland. In yesterday’s manifesto launch, leader Arlene Foster spelled out its general plans to “create more jobs and increase incomes”.

The DUP has also been firmly behind a reduction in corporation tax to 12.5%, and devolving the powers to Stormont. Earlier this month, addressing business leaders, Mrs Foster said she would consider reducing that further still to 10%.

The pro-Brexit party also wants to improve innovation and focus on “entrepreneurship, start-ups and growth”.

It wants enhanced “skills and employability” and to ensure “Northern Ireland business is outward looking and seizing international opportunities”.

Mrs Foster has said the DUP is also “building the best economic infrastructure with a focus on infrastructure as an enabler of growth”.

The DUP is also backing an “industrial strategy” which the party says “has the aim of transforming our economy into one that is globally competitive”.

Naomi Long, Alliance: New Executive plan on economy needed

The Alliance Party has said it needs political agreement on a new economic approach and believes this “should be underpinned through a new Executive Economic Strategy”.

Headed by Naomi Long, Alliance — which was pro-Remain — wants a strategy with a focus on job “protection and creation in the short-term” as well as creation.

It also wants a strong manufacturing focus, continued investment in infrastructure and  a “comprehensive tourism strategy put in place”.

Alliance also backs the devolution and reduction of corporation tax. However, Stephen Farry has previously said that access to markets, along with skills, are most important to businesses.

The party also wants small businesses here to be supported, with easier access to funding such as venture capital, and backs streamlining regulations.

It also wants improved town centres, a reform of the rates system, improved research, and also wants to see a further increase in the use of renewable energy.

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein: Stormont should be handed tax powers

Sinn Fein was firmly against the UK voting to leave the EU.

The party, which is headed by Michelle O’Neill in Northern Ireland, is also supportive of a reduced rate of corporation tax.

It also has, like the DUP, set an ambitious target of creating 50,000 new jobs over the next Assembly term.

Sinn Fein says it wants to support the public sector becoming a Living Wage employer, and wants to ensure universities are funded to “deliver the skills demanded by the economy”.

The party wants increased economic and fiscal powers, including control over income tax, national insurance, stamp duty and air passenger duty. It aims to reduce commercial vacancy rates by “placing a time limit on rates relief for empty properties” and wants a “tax on derelict land to discourage harmful speculation”.

It also wants to maintain rates relief for small businesses. As far as investment goes, it’s behind developing the A5 and A6 roads, as well as building the long-awaited Narrow Water Bridge in Warrenpoint.

Colum Eastwood, SDLP: Quality jobs required for Northern Ireland

Colum Eastwood’s SDLP wants to ensure there is a regional balance across Northern Ireland in terms of job creation and investment.

The pro-Remain party wants a focus on job creation and further education and skills. It also wants higher quality jobs being created. The SDLP is also firmly behind the devolving and reduction of corporation tax.

It wants to build our agri-food sector and implement a decided manufacturing strategy.

In its manifesto, it says it will establish Northern Ireland’s first ‘digital technology and coding academy’.

And aside from corporation tax, the SDLP says it wants to introduce a ‘productivity partnership’ allowing businesses to exchange and share knowledge.

On tourism and hospitality, it says the sectors “require urgent reform if we are to capitalise on our potential”.

The SDLP says it also will “ensure that SMEs operate in an environment which supports their growth by enhancing broadband” here.

Steven Agnew, Green Party: Clean energy policy could create jobs

One of the Green Party’s main differences of opinion from the others on the economy and business is that it is firmly opposed to a cut in corporation tax.

Headed by Steven Agnew, the party elected its second MLA, Clare Bailey during last year’s Assembly election.

It wants a “properly calculated” living wage, as outlined by the Living Wage Foundation, along with pay parity for men and women.

The pro-Remain party also wants improved skills, training and apprenticeship schemes.

The party wants a modernisation of licensing laws here to support the hospitality industry, the reform of company law to promote carer-friendly employer policies and support for trade unions.

On green issues, it wants to create a “world-class renewable energy industry”.

And the party also says income from business taxes, such as corporation tax, could fund a “Green New Deal, an energy efficiency retrofit programme that would sustain up to 15,000 jobs as well as reduce fuel poverty and lower carbon emissions”.

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