Belfast Telegraph

Making Northern Ireland a gateway for investors could help stop loss of our skilled graduates

Every day this week NI business leaders speak out on the importance of devolved government to our economy

By Kirsty McManus

Last week US President Donald Trump vowed to press ahead with his proposals to lower corporation tax to 15% in order to compete with countries such as the Republic of Ireland.

It was a reminder to those of us in Northern Ireland that hard-won plans to do similar here have stalled and will not regain momentum until the Executive is back up and running.

There is a clear message from Institute of Directors members that they want to see local politicians back at Stormont, around the Executive table, delivering on key infrastructure projects and relieving the mounting budgetary pressures being experienced across all departments.

We already know that the proposed start date of April 2018 for a new lower corporate tax rate of 12.5% is likely to be unachievable.

Any further delay could greatly reduce Northern Ireland's competitiveness as it seeks to attract new international investors.

However, the lack of movement on reducing the levy is just one issue that will be in our politicians' in-tray should there be a successful conclusion to the political talks.

Without a collective and coherent local voice on Brexit, there are real concerns that Northern Ireland, which is unique in this debate, will miss out on getting the best possible deal from the negotiations for the local economy.

It means that issues such as citizenship rights are not getting the focus they deserve.

While the long-established Common Travel Area ensures ease of passage for those from the UK and the Republic of Ireland, questions remain on the future status, particularly of those born in other parts of the European Union, or elsewhere.

Our members in sectors such as hospitality, food and tourism, some of which rely on people born outside the UK or Ireland to make up to 40% of their staff, tell us they are beginning to see signs of a real skills shortage.

It is crucial also that we get further clarity on the issue of the Irish border to give some reassurance to the 30,000 people that cross it every day and for the many businesses that carry goods from one jurisdiction to another.

Our members want to see progress also on key energy infrastructure projects.

We have the single electricity market and the East-West Interconnector, but we also need to see a positive outcome from the Planning Appeals Commission on the second North-South Interconnector.

Having a Minister for Infrastructure in place would help drive the agenda, as we are already playing catch-up with authorities south of the border who have given the project the go-ahead.

As we enter the new academic year, for more than 15,000 students born in Northern Ireland it means a return to studies at colleges and universities across England, Scotland and Wales.

Government statistics consistently show that around a third of those who graduate subsequently settle in Britain or elsewhere outside Northern Ireland.

As the decision to leave the EU moves from a referendum result to reality, there is an opportunity for Northern Ireland to be sold across the world as a gateway to Europe for investors who also want to establish a foothold in the United Kingdom post-Brexit.

Seizing that chance and building on the already strong network of foreign direct investors that have lifted sectors across the economy and helped to foster new ones such as our thriving TV and film industry and financial services sector will also make Northern Ireland a better place for our young people to work in and set down long-lasting roots.

Kirsty McManus is the Institute of Directors' Northern Ireland national director

Belfast Telegraph

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