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Private sector companies urged to raise their game

Northern Ireland does not have enough businesses operating at the highest levels and could soon fall behind the other regions if the situation does not improve, it has been warned.

President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce Francis Martin was speaking at the launch of the ‘Enabling Economic Excellence’ document, which the organisation claims contains the key elements which can help kick-start a private-sector led economic recovery.

The report centres on the creation of ‘special opportunity zones’, located in areas where jobs are needed most, to include relaxed planning and employment regulations, tax incentives, relief on business rates at district level and a jobs fund.

Mr Martin told an audience at Stormont’s Long Gallery, including the first and deputy First Ministers that the situation in the Republic is not helping matters here and called for more businesses to emulate the successes of companies like Moy Park, Almac and Wrightbus.

“The problem is that, for various reasons, we simply don’t have enough firms operating at SME level and above,” he said.

“More and more towns across Northern Ireland now have no employer of any significance based in the vicinity. With public sector cuts imminent, the private sector will become key in growing the economy.”

He also urged caution to the Government in the face of sweeping public sector cuts which could in turn impact on the private sector.

“The fact is we compete against other regions across the UK and Ireland, Europe and elsewhere,” he said.

“Many of these regions continue to invest heavily in transport, energy and digital infrastructure. A failure to continue this investment now could see us falling further behind regions in the very near future.”

First Minister Peter Robinson warned that if cutbacks led to withdrawal from a number of massive capital projects signed up to following the St Andrews Agreement funding bonanza, promised by then-chancellor Gordon Brown in 2006, this could cost the local economy further millions.

Belfast Telegraph