Belfast Telegraph

Ulster's business leaders urge PM to implement plan

By Clare Weir

Northern Ireland business groups have called on Prime Minister David Cameron to implement new proposals aimed at boosting economic growth.

Former deputy prime minister, trade and industry secretary and environment secretary Lord Heseltine has made 89 recommendations in No Stone Unturned, a report commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Among the proposals are more powers for Chambers of Commerce, improved education policy and its relevance to the economy, investment in infrastructure, planning policy, public procurement and access to finance.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, has welcomed Lord Heseltine's backing of chambers.

"He has recognised that Chambers of Commerce are local, resilient, independent, internationally focused and pro-active in their communities," she said. "We are pleased that he believes chambers can continue to play a central part in making local growth happen."

But she added that Lord Heseltine has focused too much on institutions, rather than on the barriers to business growth.

Padraig Canavan, president of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, added: "While he is proposing these ideas for England, we would like to see them implemented in Northern Ireland.

"Chambers of Commerce in continental Europe are given a stronger recognition by the national and local state and a clear role in setting local economic policy. We are keen to take on such a role here, on behalf of our members and as part of our commitment to increase economic activity, employment and wealth generation locally.

"Lord Heseltine has produced a rounded and comprehensive set of measures that stand a real chance of improving economic performance across the English regions.

We call on the Northern Ireland Executive to consider the same or similar measures here."

CBI Northern Ireland director, Nigel Smyth, said that in most cases the issues are already devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

"The importance of more local actions and leadership are absolutely right. In Northern Ireland we are ahead of the game with an economic strategy already in place," he said.

"Our biggest challenge is now transferring strategy into implementation on the ground, and delivery of the key goals set out. This is what really matters to the business community."

"The Heseltine report has a particularly strong focus on England. It is disappointing that Heseltine has not recognised the potential lowering corporation tax rates has for transforming the Northern Ireland economy, which faces a unique set of challenges."

And Mervyn McCall, chairman of the Institute of Directors in Northern Ireland, agreed with Lord Heseltine's assertion that local leaders are best placed to understand the opportunities and obstacles to growth within their own communities.

"Policies that are devised holistically and locally, and which are tailored to local circumstances, are much more likely to increase the economy's capacity for growth." he said.