Belfast Telegraph

NI in ‘worst position’ after move to impose budget, says business leader

By Margaret Canning

Westminster's moves to impose a Budget on Northern Ireland has left the province in the "worst position", a business leader has claimed.

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Ann McGregor also said the larger community appeared to have "turned its back" on politics in the absence of a functioning government.

Her claims came after Secretary of State James Brokenshire yesterday announced steps would be taken for a Budget to be arranged from Westminster after the main political parties failed to reach a deal to restore power-sharing.

The measures stop short of direct rule, but Ms McGregor said: "As things stand, we are in a sort of halfway house limbo between a local Executive and full-blown direct rule.

"It is actually the worst position to be in with decisions being made on only the absolutely vital issues such as the Budget."

The chief executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry also claimed Mr Brokenshire appeared to be "stalling" on the return of direct rule because he did not want to give up hope of an agreement to restore devolution.

"We can admire his tenacity and determination to eke out any chance of an accommodation, but the rest of the community, including the business community, appears to have turned its back on politics and is getting on with living, working and carving out their future in the absence of an active body politic. That is a shame, but it is also the reality," she said.

In a joint statement, the chief executives of trade bodies Retail NI and Hospitality NI, which represent independent traders and the pub trade, also expressed dismay at the news.

"It is beyond disappointment that no agreement has yet been found to restore devolution and that Northern Ireland, for nearly a year now, has to continue without a government," they said.

"Our members deserve better than a care and maintenance administration with important decisions on business rates, infrastructure and other areas not currently being taken by ministers. Political instability is bad for business and our economy as a whole

"Yet again, we repeat our call for the political parties to redouble their efforts to form an Executive and deal with the huge challenges facing our economy.

"Our preference will always be for devolved and accountable ministers making the key policy decisions. If that is not possible, we need a plan B."

But John Armstrong, the managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, welcomed the prospect of action being taken on a Budget by Westminster, although he admitted it would be better if decisions on spending were taken here.

"As both the UK and Irish Governments have said, it is immensely frustrating that this routine function of any other government within these islands is not being conducted by a Northern Ireland Executive," Mr Armstrong said.

"Further, as we have already been clear about this week, the statement does nothing to plan for the future, nor deal with major infrastructure funding challenges around the Executive's flagship schemes, the lack of political authority to progress projects through their various approval stages, nor the need to plan capital spending over a multi-year cycle where the all-too-familiar cliff edges for construction firms would be avoided."

Belfast Telegraph

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