Belfast Telegraph

Failure to restore Northern Ireland Executive 'will cost £1bn'

Director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn claims £940m in economic output will be lost by the end of 2019.(Niall Carson/PA)
Director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn claims £940m in economic output will be lost by the end of 2019.(Niall Carson/PA)
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

The Northern Ireland economy stands to lose almost £1bn if the Executive is not restored this year, one of the biggest figures in UK business has claimed.

Carolyn Fairbairn, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), told hundreds of business figures in Belfast on Thursday last night that £940m in economic output would be lost if the institutions were not up and running by the end of the year.

The figure is based on analysis carried out by the CBI using government data and growth rates forecast by Danske Bank.

Ms Fairbairn (below) also said a hard border would be “an economic wrecking ball” and warned that the cost of a no-deal Brexit could amount to the equivalent of over 10% of Northern Ireland’s economy by 2034.

Speaking at the CBI’s annual dinner at the ICC Waterfront, she urged politicians to adopt a business-like approach to Stormont, which remains stalled over issues including an Irish language act and marriage equality.

Ms Fairbairn said: “In boardrooms across the country, business leaders know all about differences of opinion and robust debate over questions about where to invest, who to hire and how to run a company.

“But for the most successful among them, stalemate simply is not an option. They have no choice but to reach consensus.”

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Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government since January 2017.

A fresh round of talks to restore Stormont is under way.

Speaking to an audience that included high-profile political figures, Ms Fairbairn said: “I have just one message to those involved in power-sharing talks here in Belfast. Why not adopt the business approach? You bear a historic responsibility.

“Business is crying out for compromise because the cost of failure now would be so great.

“(The lost) money could help fix roads, eradicate waiting lists in hospitals or transform education in primary and secondary schools.

“Restoring power to Stormont is the only way to do achieve this. What was once pressing is now desperately urgent.”

The CBI is one of the biggest business organisations in the UK, representing around 190,000 companies, employing some seven million people.

Addressing the issue of Brexit, the CBI director-general said: “With thousands of goods vehicles and people crossing the border each day, business has been clear — a hard border would be an economic wrecking ball for Northern Ireland.

“Facts must be at the heart of this debate. The CBI and many businesses in this room have given politicians the economic evidence they need.”

Describing the thousands of jobs created by Northern Irish businesses since 1998, she added: “It must be the business voice that shapes the policies that work for Northern Ireland’s people and its future prosperity.”

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraphyesterday, Ms Fairbairn said analysis produced by the CBI on both Stormont and Brexit was “incredibly well evidenced”.

“This has been a debate where the economy has not had enough of a voice, which is one of the reasons why we have been so vocal,” she added.

“We recognise there are very deeply held ideological views that if we’re not careful are going to have a lasting effect on people’s living standards and life here in Northern Ireland.”

Discussing the decision by Theresa May to pull back from reintroducing her withdrawal agreement to the House of Commons, Ms Fairbairn said while she did not think the deal was perfect, she believed that it had the backing of Northern Ireland businesses.

“We are disappointed and our profound message now is that it is deeply and desperately urgent that a compromise and a consensus and a deal is reached as soon as possible,” she stressed.

“We’ve seen data for the second quarter of this year showing that the entire growth rate of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, is entirely driven by stockpiling.

“It is totally wasted investment that could have gone into skills and infrastructure.”

She also warned the economy would continue to stall until Brexit was resolved.

“I think that every business in the country still needs to regard no-deal as a possibility,” Ms Fairbairn said.

“We continue to hope that it does not happen, but businesses have no choice but to prepare for the worst.

“The impact is huge, and if you put it together with the lack of an Executive in Stormont, it’s a double-hit.”

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