'Top 100' launch hears call for any new Stormont Executive to put economy first
Economist John Simpson has said any new devolved government will need to have improving the economy at its heart.
Speaking at the launch of the Belfast Telegraph Top 100 Companies in association with Arthur Cox, Mr Simpson said that he hoped any new administration would be "better than the one which collapsed two years ago".
He said he did not believe any Assembly or Executive since the restoration of Stormont had placed the economy at its centre.
Yesterday's launch of the list of Northern Ireland's most profitable companies was attended by leaders of many of the Top 100.
This year the list was headed by SSE Renewable Onshore, which had pre-tax profits of £107m.
Mr Simpson, who compiles and analyses the list, addressed the breakfast along with Kieran McGarrigle, the head of banking and finance at Arthur Cox, which was supporting the publication for the fifth year in a row.
Arthur Cox managing partner Catriona Gibson said: "Congratulations once again to all those businesses from across Northern Ireland included in this year's Top 100, many of which we were delighted to join with at the launch of the guide.
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"At Arthur Cox, we are the trusted legal advisers to many of those organisations included on the list, and have a keen appreciation of the efforts made by local business leaders to ensure their firms continue to thrive, contributing to wider economic growth and prosperity."
Mr Simpson said that he hoped that as well as providing an insight into company performance, the list could be used to inform policy, although the growth of companies in the most recent year had not been as strong as the year before.
"That's not to say we've passed the peak, but that the upward graph has begun to level off a bit," he added.
"Given that, we will now need to contribute to what we would like a devolved government to be doing or what we would like the business community to be doing in circumstances for the incoming year."
Mr Simpson said the business community deserved to be commended for its outspoken stance in favour of the withdrawal agreement and against a no-deal Brexit.
"That was an important change over the years. I would have been one, and I think there are others, who would have said in previous years that the business community is far too quiet on the essence of policy and they should be laying their views down in more detail in a way in which politicians understand what's being said, whether or not they accept it," he said.
He said that Stormont would soon be restored.
But he warned that he expected Brexit to remain a thorn in the side of business.
"The agreement or absence of an agreement on how the UK relates to Europe will be a major factor for many of your businesses," he said.
"And if there is a no-deal, with no transition or agreed arrangements, I fear that means that the Irish border will become a presence again.
"I find it very difficult to see with the best will in the world how the Irish Government will avoid it, because they have to keep within the European framework."