Trade leaders to highlight concerns on economy at meeting with Corbyn
Three trade leaders are set to bring pressing industry issues to the table when they host Jeremy Corbyn on his first visit to Northern Ireland as leader of the Labour Party today.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts, Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, and Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, will host Mr Corbyn, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer and shadow secretary of state Tony Lloyd at a joint round table economy discussion at the Europa Hotel.
It is expected that infrastructure, a borderless Brexit, skills and training shortages and the lack of an Executive will be among the main issues during the hour-long meeting as well as a request for Labour to publish "their detailed priorities for the Northern Ireland economy if they are elected to Government at the next election".
Mr Roberts has been active concerning the latter issues and in recent days he praised a committee report that proposed to detail the impact a lack of Government here had on businesses over the past 16 months. The retail chief has labelled the absence of the Executive as "disgraceful".
He said: "The current political limbo is nothing less than a total disgrace and we need to see new leadership, an end to the blame game and new talks beginning immediately."
"Having no government for so long is making Northern Ireland an international laughing stock and will impact on foreign direct investment."
Mr Roberts also called for the Department of Infrastructure to review its car parking and bus lane enforcement policy which he deemed "over zealous" and detrimental to city centre footfall.
Meanwhile, it is expected that Mr Neill, who champions the hospitality industry here, will raise the issue of "antiquated licensing hours", skills shortages, and the tourist VAT rate which is one of the highest in Europe .
"The hospitality sector is a vital cog in the economy of Northern Ireland, sustaining as it does more than 60,000 jobs and delivering £1.1bn to the economy annually," he said. "Given the number of visitors who come across the border every year, and figures show a 27% increase, the continued free movement of people is essential."
He is to appeal for a commitment that there will be no changes to the rights of Republic of Ireland citizens to work in NI or the rights of existing EU overseas workers here as he anticipates the sector will need to recruit a further 2,000 chefs and fill 30,000 vacancies by 2024 "yet there is no joined-up thinking from the government on this".
And following on from a recent AIB Brexit sentiment index, which said the manufacturing sector was among the most anxious about a post-Brexit landscape, it is expected that Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI will highlight its concerns and the skills shortages they are facing. He recently said: "They know they now face added cost and complexity brought on by customs, origin certification and a raft of other non-tariff barriers. They're also experiencing workers leaving and are having difficulty replacing them."
Mr Corbyn will also address Queen's University students on his visit.
A spokesman for the Labour leader said that he will seek to "engage with all communities and people across Northern Ireland" on both the peace process and Brexit, as well as "the need for a transformation of the economy in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the UK in a way that works for all communities".
Number of months since the collapse of the Stormont Executive. A situation labelled as a 'total disgrace' by NI Retail's Glyn Roberts