Belfast Telegraph

Business leaders welcome economic stimulus package for Northern Ireland

Business and community leaders have broadly welcomed the Government's economic pact which aims to rebalance Northern Ireland's beleaguered economy and tackle sectarian division.

The stimulus package unveiled by David Cameron at Downing Street includes initiatives to attract private sector investment and job creation, boost lending to businesses and deliver capital funding for frontline projects such as hospitals, schools and roads.

Alastair Hamilton, head of Invest Northern Ireland, the business development agency, described the initiative as positive.

"This economic pact includes a broad range of positive measures that will deliver real benefit to businesses throughout Northern Ireland as we continue to rebuild and rebalance our economy," he said.

CBI, which lobbies on behalf of business across the UK, said the commitment to retain 100% of the EU assisted area status was essential to attract foreign direct investment.

The organisation also identified enhanced borrowing powers to help the Stormont Executive finance capital investment and proposals to improve the cumbersome planning process among the highlights.

CBI Northern Ireland director Nigel Smyth said: "Our initial assessment indicates that there are many welcome commitments, though the detail in some of these is still to emerge.

"This package of measures will clearly help improve the economic environment, and encourage trade and investment, which will be the key drivers of the economy in the future. Much work needs to be done in the coming weeks and months by political leaders and others to help resolve issues around flags and parades. Our society needs more than mutual accommodation - we need to learn to live, work and play together well."

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said the announcement was good news for small businesses.

"It is positive to see new measures to provide additional start-up loans, continuation of assisted area status and greater clarity towards the devolution of corporation tax before the next general election," said NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts.

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce president Mark Nodder said the development of enterprise zones was a top priority for members, and the review of red tape was also important.

"We welcome the review of business red tape. Government must focus on simplifying regulation and reducing its costs to business, leaving companies free to grow and create jobs. Government must now introduce at least a 25% reduction in red tape and unnecessary regulation," said Mr Nodder.

Jacqueline Irwin, chief executive of the Community Relations Council, said the package of measures recognised that economic progress was dependent on a secure and peaceful society.

"The Community Relations Council has been working for many years in support of local community organisations and networks to build the confidence, skills and relationships necessary to remove the fears and concerns that underpin separation and division. We hope that these new initiatives will build on existing work and will engage widely with those directly affected," she said.

There was also cross-party political support for the measures.

Sinn Fein claimed the package was long overdue and would assist with job creation and retention while providing a boost for the ailing construction industry.

The party's economy spokesman Daithi McKay said: "What this money will do will underpin the efforts to boost not just the economy locally but also assist in building on the political progress that has been made in the north over the past number of years."

However, the North Antrim MLA expressed disappointment at continuing indecision on the devolving of corporation tax powers.

Ulster Unionist economy spokeswoman Sandra Overend gave a cautious welcome to the proposals.

"This is the plan B we have been calling for since it became clear corporation tax was on the long finger, albeit significant elements of this have already been announced and are simply being reheated ahead of the visit of president Obama.

"The economic downturn has clearly affected this region of the UK more severely than others and any additional support from Westminster to aid a recovery is therefore a step in the right direction," she said.

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