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Call for drastic action to end slump

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce has joined colleagues across Britain in calling on the UK Government to take "once in a century measures" to drive recovery.

The chamber said equipping companies for export should be a top priority for the Executive and cited the chamber's own Export First initiative, which supports around 200 businesses in the province, as evidence of what can be done.

UK-wide, it suggested an 'export voucher' scheme which would enable companies looking to export to work with chambers of commerce in their area.

A spokesman also said the Northern Ireland Chamber was still in favour of a cut in the province's rate of corporation tax after a high-profile, pro-cut campaign failed to elicit a decision from the Chancellor by the year's end.

"While we welcomed the 1% reduction in the rate in the Autumn Statement, we feel it was a missed opportunity to give a decision on Northern Ireland."

Mark Nodder, the managing director of Wrightbus and president of the chamber, said urgent measures were needed.

"We need a clear, agreed and long-term push to improve the business environment before we reach a point of no return - leading to decades of stagnation and further decline."

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He said the government needed to adopt a "belt and braces approach" by improving access to finance and boosting the employability of the young.

"Otherwise it could be a case of too little, much too late."

The chamber also called for a "firm timetable" for the creation of a dedicated British business bank.

There should be more public money diverted towards major infrastructure projects, which the chamber said "generate confidence in the short-term, jobs in the medium-term, and competitiveness in the long-term".

Last month the Northern Ireland Chamber welcomed Department for Regional Development plans for a new road interchange at York Street in Belfast which would provide continuous links between the M2, M3 and Westlink.

"All roads are important however this particular project should be given priority because of its economic link as a key transport hub (to harbours, for cross-border trade, motorway links). We therefore encourage a swift decision making process."

The business body also said the government needed to ensure young people were equipped with the necessary skills for work, claiming that long-term youth unemployment was a "direct result" of existing systems failing to deliver the workforce needed by companies.

"The government should also continue to work to boost apprenticeships, and make them aspirational again for both employees and prospective employers."

The chamber's call for action follows a prediction of 1.2% growth for the Northern Ireland economy in 2013, leaving it the weakest of the devolved regions. Scotland's economy has been tipped to grow by 1.6% while Wales is expected to expand by 1.5%.


Reduction in the rate of Corporation tax in the Autumn Statement200

Number of businesses helped by Export First1.2%

Prediction of growth for the province's economy1.6%

Prediction of growth for the Scottish economy