This could be the best place in the UK to run a firm ... all we need is the ambition
As we go to the polls on Thursday to elect our new Assembly, it is worth considering that the election campaign itself has shown a new level of maturity in local politics. For the first time, the economy, skills and infrastructure have been the dominant policy issues which the parties have clashed over, rather than 'orange or green'.
This is clearly progress and we need to ensure the next Executive focus is not on survival, but on real delivery, collective responsibility and (as far as possible) act like a normal coalition government.
It is crucial that the business community brings solutions, rather than problems to the Executive. For our part, NIIRTA has produced a comprehensive 97-point Programme for Government (PfG), which includes policy priorities for all nine of the new Executive departments.
Retail is the largest contributor to our private sector economy, but today our members still feel that there are too many barriers to business in place. We are calling for the Executive to take our proposals on board and to work to secure retail's rightful position as a key partner for growth in a new, more efficient private sector-led Northern Ireland.
In our Economic Programme for Government we outline detailed proposals for a radical reform of business rates, new enterprise zones, city deals, more business improvement districts (Bids) and investment in infrastructure.
Action on addressing the high business costs; a co-ordinated plan to tackle red tape and creating a more vocational and professional education system are all key priorities in our plan.
Let's be very clear - 12.5% corporation tax is no silver bullet. Without real investment in skills and infrastructure, its real potential will be lost. Likewise, we need radical reform of business rates and a new Small Business Rate Relief scheme, targeted at the companies that need it.
Central to the next Executive programme is the need to boost productivity as a region and be more ambitious for growing the NI economy. Rather than a growth rate of 1% or 2%, could we achieve 10% growth over the next five years?
The next few weeks will see vital negotiations on the new Programme for Government. Business and trade organisations need to be part of those discussions, to ensure we have a real partnership to ensure real delivery and a PfG with a 10% economic growth target as its number one priority.
With a competitive tax regime, modernised infrastructure and investment in skills, there is no reason why Northern Ireland could not be the best place in the UK and Ireland to locate or start a business.
All we need is the ambition.