Northern Ireland Chamber urges Stormont to give economy a kick-start after 'three years of paralysis'
The chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said that the new Executive's priority should be to provide certainty for businesses and reverse the damage that years of paralysis has caused.
Ann McGregor said the Executive needed to take immediate action as the Chamber revealed the findings of its latest economic survey, carried out with business advisers BDO.
She said: "Following the long-awaited return to devolution last week, the Executive must move fast to start reversing the damage and restore the confidence of businesses, consumers and investors and make sure NI does not get left further behind.
"There needs to be immediate substantial action to reinvigorate our stagnant economy, build new infrastructure, boost skills and lower the cost of doing business in 2020."
The latest quarterly economic survey results suggest that weak growth in the local economy persisted as 2019 drew to a close.
However, there was some improvement in the last three months after a particularly poor quarter three for the manufacturing and services sector.
The survey was carried out in November, when there was growing uncertainty around Brexit.
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But the results suggest that delaying Brexit until January 31, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a withdrawal agreement, has had a negative effect on almost a third of business (32%).
They said the delay has had an impact on investment and growth plans.
According to the survey, three in five members (57%) believe the Northern Ireland economy will contract in 2020 and they enter the year less optimistic than they were at the outset of other years.
Other key concerns raised in the results include reducing business costs, investing in infrastructure and addressing skills gaps.
"Given recent trading conditions, these results are, unfortunately, not surprising," said Ms McGregor.
"Rather, they are confirmation of the starkly negative impact three years of paralysis at Stormont and continuing Brexit uncertainty had and continues to have on companies across the province.
"While businesses are more positive about their own prospects for growth in 2020 compared to the wider economy, despite best efforts, their plans are weighed down by these external factors."
Brian Murphy of BDO added: "Although ongoing scepticism for the economy as a whole continues, results show a modest confidence within both the services and manufacturing sectors for their individual business growth prospects for 2020.
"Around three in five (57%) believe their business will grow and one in 10 expect their business to grow strongly.
"In order for businesses to achieve aspirations similar to what they were in 2016, a number of long-standing issues need to be addressed - low levels of confidence fuelled by uncertainty, rising business costs and the skills gap, along with Brexit, are topping yet another Survey wish-list.
"With a new Executive in place we now have local ministers making decisions on these key issues for the first time in three years, as well as guiding us through the complexities of the next stages of Brexit.
"This is a welcome development for the business community."