Belfast Telegraph

Political drift risks hurting investment

Editor's Viewpoint

The drop in inward investment by more than 50% last year is, to put it mildly, a very worrying statistic. Yet it is hardly surprising, given that some of the most fundamental requirements of companies seeking to set up anywhere are absent in Northern Ireland.

Currently, and for more than a year, we have had no functioning government and no-one expects devolution to be restored any time soon.

There is confusion over who can make any decisions normally taken by ministers and a distinct lack of input from Westminster.

Also, no one is certain how Brexit negotiations will pan out and how the final divorce will affect Northern Ireland. Further, it is a province deeply divided on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion reform and cultural touchstones.

The Executive, when it was in power, missed the boat by failing to introduce a lower rate of corporation tax, widely regarded as one of the most important economic levers.

No matter how attractive the incentives given by Invest NI, this is not an encouraging background for hard-headed business leaders to set up firms here in a very competitive global marketplace.

Some analysts try to explain away this plummeting investment scene by pointing out how well Northern Ireland has done in the past. But those successes came at a time when the devolved government was working and when ministers were going on trade missions around the world.

Some people might argue that with unemployment at an all-time low, attracting new investment does not matter to the same degree as it once did.

But that is to ignore the need to grow the economy and to create a culture of more skilled jobs and better rewards for workers.

Northern Ireland's economy is too heavily dependent on the public sector, even with the recent cull of civil servants, and many of the jobs that have been attracted here in recent times are in service industries, usually back office employment.

Northern Ireland, if it was functioning as it should, has many attributes required by inward investors, particularly the quality of the workforce, the infrastructure and the access to markets - although that will change after Brexit.

What the EY Attractiveness Survey demonstrates is that Northern Ireland is the ugly duckling of the UK which has suddenly lost its buoyancy.

The political drift cannot be allowed to continue.

Belfast Telegraph

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