by John Healy, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
At the Conservative Party Conference last week, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out an optimistic vision for the UK, calling on business and Government to work together to lift growth and tackle inequality. He outlined ambitions around infrastructure, skills, sustainability and trade.
However what the Prime Minister must realise is that there’s a big difference between a list of buzz words and practical, real-world proposals that businesses can bank on in these turbulent times. These critical issues cannot remain hopeful ambitions, they require urgent, concrete action. They also rely on a good Brexit deal.
As Boris Johnson was delivering his keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference, our colleagues at the British Chambers of Commerce published the findings of its latest Quarterly Economic Survey of 6,600 UK firms that employ roughly 1.2 million people.
The findings pointed to a worrying drop-off in UK economic activity, with unrelenting uncertainty over Brexit and a notable slowing in global growth prospects dragging down almost all the key indicators in the quarter. The Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, Dr Adam Marshall, called the findings “a reality check” noting them as “some of the worst figures we’ve seen in a decade.”
As NI Chamber publishes its own findings unique to Northern Ireland next week, it is evident that jobs, businesses, and the future success of our businesses are on the line. Behind each and every one of these statistics sit thousands of real businesses, who are feeling the cold harsh winds of Brexit uncertainty and global trade turbulence right now.
Our members are still facing a nail-biting period ahead and the unwanted prospect of a messy and disorderly exit on 31 October. The reality is that neither the UK government nor many businesses are fully ready for a no-deal exit from the EU. No one should downplay the disruption and economic dislocation that would be caused by a messy departure - a hammer blow for business confidence, investment and future growth plans.
Furthermore, the Brexit proposal outlined by Boris Johnson last week has added to the concern, with members telling us that the proposals will lead to potential increased costs that will seriously damage business supply lines and indeed business survival. Reference to ‘no checks at the border’ rather than ‘no checks at all’ has done little to help business confidence, with the comments inferring friction on all sides. This is not a situation conducive to business growth, export and private sector employment.
The Prime Minister must make the next two weeks count. These proposals must not represent a final destination for Northern Ireland business. They are not the proposals to safeguard people’s livelihoods, the prosperity of our communities and the fortunes of many businesses across the UK.