Rising unemployment and company closures across a range of business sectors indicate that the Northern Ireland economy is entering a recession, which has very significant consequences for everyone.
We believe the challenge which must be addressed urgently is how to reduce the severity and duration of the recession.
There are serious, fundamental problems now facing the economy. Consumer and business confidence have fallen sharply in recent weeks.
Unemployment rose sharply last month and further rises are inevitable. The global financial crisis is now impacting on the real economy, with additional challenges being created by rising energy prices. Key skills and experience, already in short supply, are also being lost.
Confidence within the private sector is manifestly in decline. The consequences for policymakers and the business community aiming to strengthen the private sector could be far reaching.
What the Executive says and does will influence business, investment decisions and the wider community. A strategic, co-ordinated and immediate response is required by the Northern Ireland Executive to the emerging situation. There needs to be a sharper focus on delivering key goals set by the Programme for Government.
Strong leadership and bold actions are required now to reverse the trend in unemployment, promote investment and position Northern Ireland for accelerated growth when the global economy recovers. These should include:
l A speedy roll-out of capital projects from the Investment Strategy on infrastructure developments including the strategic road network, schools, public transport, telecommunications, tourism projects such as the signature Titanic scheme and the Giant’s Causeway Centre, and sports facilities.
l Economic regeneration projects including the Maze Long-Kesh, Crumlin Road Jail, Fort George in Londonderry, as well as those proposed in north and west Belfast need to be accelerated.
l Publication of Delivery Implementation Plans for the development of health and education facilities are six months overdue and need to be finalised rapidly.
l Reform of the planning system to speed up the delivery of investment projects.
l Increased investment in education and skills, including the new careers strategy, required for private sector growth.
l A sharper focus on the reform of the public sector to reduce bureaucracy and to ensure that it is structured to enable Northern Ireland to respond quickly and decisively to opportunities.
l Investments to improve energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy.
l A review to ensure that sufficient resources are available to enable smaller companies in particular to invest in innovation and exports.
The business community is eager to work with the Executive on a strategy and measures that will stimulate the economy, rebuild confidence and encourage the risk taking by the private sector required for sustainable growth. We are encouraged by the decision by Finance Minister Nigel Dodds to shelve any plans to introduce a local tax on previously developed land.
John Armstrong, Construction Employers Federation |(Northern Ireland)
Nigel Smyth, Confederation of British Industry (Northern |Ireland)
Linda Brown, Institute of |Directors (Northern Ireland)
Bob Craig, Chartered Institute of Building (Northern Ireland)
George Coulter, Construction Industry Group
Wendy Blundell, Institution of Civil Engineers
Michael Wightman, Northern Ireland Manufacturing
Gordon Best, Quarry Products Association