Northern Ireland faces a vicious circle of cuts and austerity without the power to set its own rate of corporation tax, the head of the Chamber of Commerce has said.
Kevin Kingston told the annual chamber president's dinner last night that the business community will have to take responsibility for making the most of the tax power.
At 21%, Northern Ireland has the same main corporation tax rate as the rest of the UK but has agitated for a cut to enable to compete for foreign direct investment with the Republic's 12.5% rate.
Mr Kingston said firms would be able to invest additional capital "to employ more people, and create more wealth, and generate more tax" if the power was devolved.
First Minister Peter Robinson has said he believes Northern Ireland will be granted devolution over its tax rate next month during a visit here by David Cameron and Gary Hart, the new US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland. The business community has campaigned for years for the tax concession, with lobbying reach a zenith around two years ago.
During a speech to 550 members of the business community at Titanic Belfast, Mr Kingston - who is also deputy chief executive of Danske Bank - said: "The next few years are going to be difficult no matter what, but without the catalyst of corporation tax, we face a vicious circle of cuts and austerity - inevitably proving the point that we already know - that our private sector is simply too small to support the needs and aspirations of our people."
Mr Kingston said Northern Ireland needed to face up to the reality of budget cuts. Not only was the region facing £800m in cutbacks, but it was also grappling with an overly-large public sector and the challenge of welfare reform.
"Cuts are an inescapable reality in the short term, but shrinking our way out of the problem will not work in the long run - we have to grow our future."
He said devolution of corporation tax would be "an investment in the private sector to grow new opportunities and to put new jobs on the ground for all of our communities".
In an interview this week, Peter Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph he did not believe giving Northern Ireland jurisdiction over tax would spark a squabble among Wales and Scotland.
"Northern Ireland alone has the case to have power over corporation tax devolved because of our closeness to a jurisdiction that has a lower level and because of the need to rebalance the economy," he said.