Belfast Telegraph

Business Soapbox: Eamonn Loughrey

The delayed Regional Development Strategy (RDS) sets out how economic growth in Northern Ireland will be generated but the Assembly needs to take a leading role

The big issue facing MLAs and ministers when they return from the summer recess remains the non-performing economy. Times are tough and with the impact of public- sector cuts starting to be seen, the question remains; what can be done to stimulate the economy further?

Northern Ireland needs to be able to better promote itself to its external markets. An opportunity to do this is the lowering of corporation tax which would help increase inward investment. However, if we assume that corporation tax is lowered, how will inward investors be accommodated? How can we ensure the systems of getting businesses open and creating jobs as soon as possible are achieved? A key component is the Regional Development Strategy (RDS).

The RDS is the umbrella document that sets out where growth should occur and how it will be supported by infrastructure. It was drafted in 2010 but due to delays it was not published until early 2011.

The consultation period ended in March but there is no indication of how or when the RDS will be adopted. One of the inevitable effects of the RDS, as it creates winners and losers in council areas, is the partisan views between interested groups with localised agendas. Few parties have considered the external potential of the RDS.

A regional statement of government intent combined with low corporation tax rates would be a significant marketing tool. Government, councils and private-sector companies could utilise this opportunity to attract new business. It would marry business commercial reality with land use and locational considerations in terms of accessibility, labour and resources.

The debate has been led by industry but unfortunately the RDS, as it stands, has failed to recognise the opportunity. We need government to lead the way and not trail behind the private sector, otherwise opportunities will be missed.

Eamonn Loughrey is Partner at DPP Belfast