‘We must avoid political paralysis’
What a whirlwind week it was for the CBI. Hot off the heels of our annual conference in London where Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson spoke to an audience of 1,500 plus business leaders - CBI Northern Ireland held its very own election hustings in partnership with BDO NI at Law Society House, Belfast, writes trevor Lockhart, CBI NI Chair.
At a time when the UK can seem so divided, the CBI brought together the best of NI business with the five main political parties – Alliance, DUP, Sinn Féin, SDLP and UUP. CBI members spoke up and put the priorities of Northern Irish business firmly back on the political map.
With the continued uncertainty around Brexit and no functioning devolved Stormont for over 1,000 it is critical, now more than ever, that political leaders engage effectively with Northern Irish companies.
Each party made their passionate pitch to business. Strikingly, there were many areas where consensus could be found.
The political leaders agreed that there was a need for collaboration and partnership to solve the Brexit conundrum for Northern Ireland and get Stormont back up and running. So what’s the hold up?
Businesses confidence is low and if we’re honest, firms are pretty sceptical - particularly on the restoration of Stormont.
A snap (and unscientific) poll of the room revealed that a worrying 69% of attendees feel that the parties won’t come together to restore power-sharing in the near future.
With the eyes of the world firmly on us, companies want politicians to end the avoidable delays. NI firms are desperate to turn their attention to improving infrastructure, plugging their skills gaps and creating a fairer, greener and more inclusive economy. It’s time to see our political leaders turn their words into action.
On infrastructure, all parties agreed with attendees on the need to improve the network options across North and South, East and West. On skills, they understood the importance of the education and skills sector collaborating and placing further education on a par with higher education.
All in all, it was agreed that using the combined power of enterprise and politics we could make changes for the good.
In my remarks, I emphasised the power of business and politicians collectively working together to make a real difference to the NI economy. And underlined the importance of a clear vision for business and the economy from the next government.
The CBI will continue to ensure that firms from across Northern Ireland are able to connect with local politicians and have their voices heard on the topics that matter for the growth of their business, the wider economy and benefit of all local communities.
Because in what will be the most important Westminster election for a generation, we must avoid another wasted period of political paralysis, indecision and distraction while productivity, investment and the economy suffer.
Strong engagement with the business community and a spirit of collaboration both between the parties themselves and between politicians and business is essential.
It’s within our collective power to change the course of the tide. Because if we don’t, nowhere will the consequences be so keenly felt than in Northern Ireland.