Stormont MLAs have been challenged by business leaders to prove that devolved government can deliver.
The coalition Trade NI held the first major policy presentation by business groups to the newly restored Assembly.
First Minister Arlene Foster, Economy Minister Diane Dodds and prominent members of the business community were among those who attended the Northern Ireland Economy – What Now? event at the Long Gallery.
Trade NI – an alliance between Hospitality Ulster, Manufacturing NI and Retail NI – put on the event to “highlight the urgent and pressing issues felt by the business community”.
The group has launched its Vision 2030 document which sets out key policy priorities with the potential to create 65,000 jobs.
You must act, this is your opportunity as legislators to be change-makers and prove above all else that this place can deliverGlyn Roberts, Retail NI
Speaking at the event, Glyn Roberts of Retail NI said it was a “call to action to make our economy fit for purpose”.
“If there is one thing that is clear this Executive cannot be business as usual, it needs to be radically rebooted and less about process and more about delivery,” he said.
“Its programme for government needs to be more than just a deal between the five parties, and instead it should include the key partners in the economy such as business and the wider civic society.
“MLAs, you must listen to this genuine call for help on rates from independent retailers and hospitality businesses, and above all else, you must act. This is your opportunity as legislators to be change-makers and prove above all else that this place can deliver.”
Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said the business community has played its part and it is now the turn of MLAs.
Mr Neill said the business community has been “held back by legislation with outdated licensing laws” and “crippled by a business rates model that actually punishes hard work and investment”.
“We know the last few years here have been difficult and it hasn’t been business as usual in this place, but the Assembly now has a new deal, it’s a new decade with a new approach, and now it is time the hospitality industry had their new deal,” he said.
“We need a modern, simple, fair and effective legislative framework and taxation framework to allow us to prosper.”
âThis is a call for action. The Programme for Government needs to be more than the five parties. It needs to encompass all the sectors of NI that help make our economy thrive and grow.â @retail_ni @glynrobertsni— Trade NI (@tradenitweets) February 4, 2020
In a joint statement with Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI, they said the “cycle of limited economic growth” must be broken to allow potential investment to flow into Northern Ireland.
“The high cost of doing business in Northern Ireland, such as business rates, must be immediately addressed by this Executive,” they said.
“It is a scandal that businesses in Northern Ireland pay the highest rates in the UK.”
They said Stormont must create an environment where business can thrive.
“Reducing the cost of doing business, reforming business rates, investing in our infrastructure, developing skills, increasing our productivity and finding innovative new ways of stimulating investment, revitalising our high streets and creating an economy, which can deliver for working families,” they said.
The heads of Stormont’s Economy Committee also spoke at the event.
Chairwoman Caoimhe Archibald welcomed the Vision 2030 document and pledged to engage with the group.
Deputy chairwoman Sinead McLaughlin said Trade NI is to be commended for developing the document.
“The Economy Committee has highlighted that there are only two years left of this sitting Assembly, and we must use that to make an impact,” she added.