Northern Ireland is facing a rates crisis if power-sharing at Stormont cannot be restored after the election, it has been warned.
Alliance leader Naomi Long said the region could be hit by increased debt levels and rising rates defaults due to the political stalemate.
Stormont has been unable to agree a budget or set a regional rate because of the collapse of the institutions.
Even after the election, an extended period of suspension is anticipated as parties enter into negotiations.
Speaking at a Chamber of Commerce 5 Leaders; 5 Days event in Lisburn, Ms Long warned there will be “a genuine crisis if we don’t get a regional rate.”
“There will be no ability to chase the debt on the district rate, plus we won’t have the regional rate coming in, which is another one of our accrued funds that we won’t have access to during any suspension period,” she said.
“There is a real issue about what happens with accrued funds. Things like welfare and benefits, European monies that come in and regional rate monies which go into different departments, if those can’t be issued and collected, we could have increased debt.”
She also warned of higher levels of rates defaults than in previous years because rates bills are expected to be issued late.
“It is likely that this year, the rates bill will go out at least one month and possibly two months later. If we go beyond June, we are in a situation where people are being asked to pay for their rates in larger instalments and I think the level of default in that case may significantly increase. “
Ms Long also warned members of the business community at the event that “too many of our brightest and best” are leaving Northern Ireland.
She claimed young people are being “driven out” by a culture which they find “repressive and controlling”, such as from where and when they can purchase a drink over the Easter weekend, to whom they can marry and have a family with.
“The challenge, if we are to build a thriving and vibrant economy, is to also match that with a thriving and vibrant society that celebrates diversity, embraces ingenuity, nurtures creativity and encourages expression,” said Ms Long.
In relation to Brexit, she said there is real danger that Northern Ireland will become a “backwater as it falls further and further behind in terms of progressive reforms happening in other regions and states”.
She added: “Again, Brexit has reinforced for many young people the perception of Northern Ireland as an insular, backward and closed place, rather than one that is internationalist, progressive and open, which more closely mirrors their personal aspirations.”