‘We can’t afford to be let down again’

Press Releases 6 Apr 2022

The chaotic performance of the last mandate, easing the impact of surging overhead costs, and the need for a childcare strategy were just some of the big issues on which the economy leads of the five largest parties were challenged as they came face to face during FSB Northern Ireland’s Election hustings.

During a one-hour debate, the panel involving the UUP’s Mike Nesbitt, Stewart Dickson of Alliance, Caoimhe Archibald of Sinn Féin, the DUP’s Gordon Lyons, and Matthew O’Toole of the SDLP, were hit hard by critiquing questions from both the host Karen Patterson and by FSB members.

Confidence in the power sharing institutions was a thread running through the debate. Whilst all candidates acknowledged the need to deliver better government, the prospect of lengthy post-election negotiations and a question mark over whether the Executive would return were met with a plea by members for Stormont to ‘get behind businesses.’ The sentiment was reflected by Maeve Monaghan, Chief Executive of Now Group, who told the panel that small businesses and social enterprises ‘can’t afford to be let down again.’

She added: “There is so much work to do. Politicians have to get behind us. We have problems coming at us from every angle.”

On the scale of the financial challenges facing SMEs and what Stormont could do to help, candidates presented opposing views on the level of support that could be distributed in the short and long term. Calls were made for the UK government to act by cutting fuel duty and VAT on energy bills. The creation of a taskforce which could provide targeted support particularly for micro businesses and the establishment of a Department for Energy at Stormont were put forward as possible solutions to tackle the cost of doing business crisis.

One area of welcome common ground was on the issue of devolving corporation tax powers. There was broad agreement on the merit of cutting corporation tax, although candidates cautioned that the right conditions had to be in place to mitigate against the possible initial impact on the Executive’s budget.

Matthew O’Toole warned that the Treasury would insist on the block grant being cut if the move were agreed by Stormont. Caoimhe Archibald said she would like to see alignment with the Republic’s tax rate but that it had to be based on affordability. Gordon Lyons referenced the differences between the current economic environment and that which existed when the move was first supported.  For Mike Nesbitt, the pursuit of lower corporation tax rates should form part of the Programme For Government negotiations. Stewart Dickson believes that the public must be convinced that it is the right step to take.

It's ‘hugely critical’ and ‘we need to get real about this’ were just some of standout phrases from the panel when they were questioned on the lack of a childcare strategy. With no mention of it in the draft budget and uncertainty over how it will be funded, for many observers it will be a case of ‘watch this space’.

Only time will tell if there is a willingness amongst our political leaders to agree a Programme for Government and, ultimately, create and deliver a stable framework for our economy. The period post May 5th will reveal a lot about the direction of travel for politics here.

WATCH the full debate here:


Meet the author

Shauna McKeown

Shauna McKeown

Head of Communications NI