Got to up our game and fix our gaze!
When I reflect on the conversations I’ve had with CBI members in the last few weeks, it’s fair to say they are buoyed by the improving economic outlook.
We’ve had more than enough of challenges and changes, but I am now seeing companies starting to emerge from these unprecedented times. They’re utterly determined to bounce back from the personal and economic cost of the pandemic.
Last week’s staged reopening of some of Northern Ireland’s hardest-hit sectors will have come as a huge relief to owners that have endured a torrid year of lockdown restrictions. Hospitality, leisure and non-essential retail firms will now be looking to the weeks ahead with cautious optimism. However, we remain a way off before we turn the page on the pandemic. That’s why it’s crucial that firms are supplied with clear guidance from the Executive that enables them to operate in a safe and profitable way, based on local health data.
I’ve said it time and again that Government support has provided a lifeline during an unprecedented 12 months. But we know firms are still low on cash and demand as they emerge from lockdown. In recent weeks we’ve also seen increased political instability, which does nothing to help consumer and business confidence. All of this means additional help and support from the Executive will be needed.
Further financial support could offer flexibility and help cushion firms during a precarious restart phase where jobs and livelihoods remain in the balance. A big effort is going to be needed from both the NI Executive and the UK Government over the summer to rebuild confidence and support business and economic growth. For enduring the here and now, but also for facing forward into the future.
We all must all lift our heads and focus on the actions we can collectively take to secure the long-term, competitive future of Northern Ireland. Because we cannot allow economic adversity and political uncertainty to lead to lost investment.
“Levelling up” is a soundbite that’s stuck, and let’s be honest, it’s often associated with England alone. But I sincerely believe that Northern Ireland has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be ambitious, build on our strengths and show the world what we’re made of. If we’re able to deliver a detailed economic strategy, we can build on the unique economic circumstances we find ourselves in for the years ahead.
The Department of the Economy’s Economic Recovery Action Plan, the progress on the City Region Deals, and meaningful conversations around climate action are all a step in the right direction. With consultations on the Investment Strategy, the Energy Strategy and the new Programme for Government, we’ve put ourselves on the first rung of the ladder to restoring our economy and securing a greener, fairer future.
But we’ve got to up our game. Fix our gaze on what our economy needs to look like by 2030 and what practical action needs to be taken now to deliver it. Difficult decisions remain around the reform of health and education, as well as infrastructure. Setting the changes we need in motion in the next year or two will take time to bear fruit and no doubt will be difficult to deliver. It is vital we have an Executive fully focused on delivering economic prosperity.
The CBI is about to launch its Economic Vision, a bold attempt to focus on domestic priorities, and set out the roadmap for the economy to go form rescue to recovery. In Northern Ireland we need to go further, to take that path from good to great. We know seizing the moment won’t be easy. It will take courage from employers, employees, unions and politicians to work together and pull in the same direction.
The past year has shown we can do it. That in the face of adversity business and government were able to work together to overcome major challenges. Whilst this is a new type of crisis, I wouldn’t bet against us doing what needs to be done and really delivering for all people across Northern Ireland.
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