Belfast Telegraph

US investment drive stifled by Stormont woes, says KPMG boss

Feargal McCormack, Shaun Kelly and Gerry Kelly, who interviewed Shaun as part of yesterday’s event
Feargal McCormack, Shaun Kelly and Gerry Kelly, who interviewed Shaun as part of yesterday’s event
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

A Belfast-born boss at KPMG International, who was tasked with helping drive US investment here, has said he's still working to improve the economy despite the absence of an Executive.

Shaun Kelly, who was addressing an event in Belfast staged by Chartered Accountants Ireland, said uncertainty was the worst factor facing businesses as Brexit looms.

The KPMG chief operating officer, who has lived in the US for over 30 years, said he had seen business cope with "chaos" before following the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, 9/11 and the credit crunch.

However, uncertainty made things even harder for business to plan he told accountants at the event hosted by Chartered Accountants Ireland president Feargal McCormack.

In 2016 Mr Kelly was appointed to head up the east coast side of a US-based board to drive investment into Northern Ireland.

He said the board was still operating but was restricted as there was no longer an Executive to report to.

However, he added that it had got off to a good start thanks to the-then First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

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"I was in a room with Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster presenting to US businesses and driving home the importance of business, and everyone was so impressed," he said.

"It is a negative we don't have an Executive, exacerbated by the fact that, before, they were very good at working with business.

"From the US perspective, when we did have them meeting with business it was always a positive experience."

But he said the board continues to help economic development agency Invest NI in its outreach to US companies.

"It's hard to advise a First Minister and Deputy First Minister when you don't have one, but I have reached out and talked to the party leaders about how the diaspora and our advisory board can do anything to help," he said.

Brexit was a factor for potential investors here he said, but would be weighed up against other factors. "Big multinationals are used to dealing with geo-political challenges, weighing it all up, and this is just one factor," he added.

"The big selling point here has been access to talent and that is still a big driver and probably not directly impacted by Brexit.

"But then you get into mobility of people and if that is a problem after Brexit can you still attract the people you need?"

Investors can attract local talent but also supplement it with others coming from the EU or other parts of Europe, he said, but that would be curtailed as harder forms of Brexit will end freedom of movement from the EU.

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