Belfast Telegraph

Assembly 'must take lead' in enterprise plan

By Margaret Canning

Setting up an enterprise zone in Northern Ireland requires the leadership of the Executive and Assembly and not the Treasury, a business body said.

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce said making the province an enterprise zone would create "a hub for new and expanding local businesses and a magnet for international investment".

In 2008 then Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson announced he wanted to make the province an enterprise zone to improve the prospects of businesses.

But the chamber said setting it up "would require the leadership of the Assembly and Executive instead of the UK Treasury".

Chamber president Francis Martin said: "There should be an appreciation of the objectives of all institutions of government, but the responsibility [for an enterprise zone] must rest with Northern Ireland."

The chamber is to meet Finance Minister Sammy Wilson tomorrow to discuss its plans, contained in a 'blueprint' for enterprise zone status published this week.

Mr Martin said: "A healthy private sector means a higher level of job creation in Northern Ireland. This means a more stable local economy, vibrant high streets, healthier citizens and cohesive communities.

"The challenge to grow our private sector is more acute than ever and the time for prevarication is over - we must act now."

He said that while a cut in corporation tax was "vital" in improving the private sector, it was not a "silver bullet solution" to wider economic problems.

An enterprise zone would also be necessary, and its vital features would include a fast-track planning process, access to a jobs fund and an enhanced export guarantee scheme.

The business environment also needed to be geared up for success, with Mr Martin calling for improvements in areas like planning and infrastructure and for agreement on water and sewerage policy.

There should also be rate relief for new and expanding companies, a streamlined tax credit system and lower VAT on domestic property repairs.

The chamber chief stressed it was important that there was support for sectors with the greatest potential to grow, support for knowledge transfer and third level education and guarantees to lenders to support favourable borrowing arrangements.

In October the chamber's manifesto advised cutting the red tape facing companies and looking at what can be done with assets in the public sector.