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FSB Manifesto 2017
Northern Ireland Assembly Elections
In the final week of their campaigns for the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections taking place on Thursday 2nd March, FSB asked the leaders of the five main political parties in Northern Ireland to outline what their commitments to local small businesses are. Scroll down or click on the linked titles below to read what each of the parties are saying directly to FSB members.
The DUP has put the economy right at the heart of each and every Programme for Government since 2007. It was the DUP that prioritised the economy in our choice of government departments since devolution was restored. Indeed, at times among the political parties, we stood alone in the campaign to allow Northern Ireland to set its own rate of Corporation Tax.
For all of its critics, and amidst all the hype-filled headlines and rhetoric since the election was triggered, it's all too easy to forget that devolution has been good for Northern Ireland.
Because make no mistake about it, devolution has been good for Northern Ireland.
I am incredibly proud of what government and business, working together, have achieved.
In my view, there is no doubt that local government has helped us address many of our structural weaknesses, putting us in a stronger position than we might otherwise have been. With all of the uncertainties that exist around Brexit, the new US Administration, and now the political instability here, I’m certainly not complacent - but surely no one would deny that things have massively improved.
The number of people claiming unemployment related benefits in Northern Ireland has fallen by almost 6,000 in the last year.
All of this is at stake on 2 March and so too is our seat at the table in the Brexit negotiations. I know some of us were on different sides of the argument in the referendum last June but now we need to get the best result for Northern Ireland.
That’s what I said on 24th June last year and that is still where my focus is. Personally, I believe we have huge potential outside the EU but in order to achieve this potential we need to get the right deal for the United Kingdom in general and for Northern Ireland in particular.
As I indicated last year, that means recognising in any deal the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and, in turn, that means being at the negotiating table to argue our specific case. With our team at Westminster, our team at Stormont and our good working relationship with the Government, I believe we are best placed to get the best deal for Northern Ireland.
The DUP has played its part in delivering economic progress over the last ten years with more jobs and more prosperity for Northern Ireland. We have a plan for the next ten years as well. Just before the election the Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton published our draft Industrial Strategy. It is the basis of our plans for the next Assembly term.
The Industrial Strategy has the overarching aim of transforming our economy into one that is globally competitive and works for everyone. It seeks to balance between growth and competitiveness with inclusivity. It places an emphasis on supporting strong and emerging sectors. Sectors where we are world class or could be world class. Sectors like cyber security, life and health sciences, agri foods, aerospace and materials handling.
Last May, creating more and better jobs with a target of 50,000 by 2021 was central to our five-point plan. We stand on that platform again. This target will be achieved not solely through the work of Invest NI but the range of measures in this plan including action on corporation tax, an upscaling plan, a rural jobs focus and investment in skills. The full details are available in our manifesto.
Throughout Northern Ireland, I am asking for support to make all of that a reality.
I am asking for support to allow all of us to get on with building on the strong foundations we have laid to get on with moving Northern Ireland forward.
I am asking for support to get Northern Ireland back to business.
Sinn Fein’s Commitment to SMEs, Sinn Féin will work to:
Defending Economic Benefits of Europe
A Level Playing Field in Public Procurement
Strengthening our Infrastructure
Politicians are not wealth generators; quite the opposite, we draw our salaries, expenses and office costs from the public purse. What we can do it create the best environment in which you, the wealth generators, grow our economy, employ more people and yield the taxes that fund excellence in our public services. So, on the Ulster Unionist watch, we would listen harder and react better to what you have to say.
I remain extremely concerned by the lack of a plan for Northern Ireland post-Brexit. We committed initial thoughts to our Vision paper in September (www.uup.org) which has a three-stranded approach (i) a vision for NI outside the EU (ii) the plan and (iii) ten key asks. We need to identify our policy priorities and, crucially, determine whether they clash or complement the UK Government’s. There will be clashes and we need the communication channels to red flag our concerns.
Our key ask is a tripling of investment in Infrastructure, paid for by the billions we are told will be repatriated from Brussels, and above all, a recognition that we lack any coherent energy policy, to the point the lights could start going out by 2020, not least for FSB members. We also prioritise a step change in education and skills – again listening more closely to your needs.
We are investing in expert research into developing our own energy policy and also business rates; there is little point trying to gather business rates from a company that has closed over its inability to pay rates.
Other issues we hear you say need tackled include: broadband provision; red tape; timely payments, especially by the public sector.
The Ulster Unionist Party were the first to promote the devolution of Corporation Tax rates. We still support it, but acknowledge the advantage has eroded over time.
In short, we are not afraid to devolve power off the hill at Stormont and further empower you to do your job, of wealth generation.
What will Brexit will mean for Northern Ireland and how will their interests will be represented and promoted?
We are living in unexpectedly, and unhappily, difficult times for economic and political stability in Northern Ireland. There are two main drivers for this. The first is the uncertainty around Brexit and the second is the low likelihood of a new Executive being formed after this election.
In the first case, Northern Ireland is in a particularly precarious position as we are likely to be disproportionately affected by the loss of the single market and any hardening of borders on the island of Ireland. We are especially disappointed that the outgoing DUP-Sinn Fein Executive were too busy politicking to develop a coherent position in relation to Brexit. Alliance have called for some form of Special Status and we have outlined what this could look like in a recent paper, available on our website.
Small business across Northern Ireland have been contacting Alliance elected representatives with their worries about the future and that has informed our view that any Brexit must allow Northern Ireland businesses participation in the Single Market, membership of the Customs Union and access to Structural and Competitive Funds.
Sadly, the instability caused by Brexit looks likely to be coupled with a period of Executive collapse in Northern Ireland. It is increasingly difficult to see how an Executive will be formed following the election given the increasing intransigence of both the DUP and Sinn Fein. Alliance has been a long-standing supporter of an inclusive, respectful power-sharing model for the institutions in Northern Ireland. Any local Executive will be better-placed to work with local businesses than a distant direct rule Minister.
Alliance’s manifesto, released last week, demonstrates our belief that our economy needs to change for good. We know that we have a number of structural strengths and that includes vibrant businesses based in Northern Ireland at the moment. However, we also have a number of structural weaknesses. For example, business creation in Northern Ireland lags significantly behind other areas of the UK.
We have laid out a series of proposals for small businesses which will make it much easier for them to trade. This includes:
This would sit aside our wider investments in skills and infrastructure which will strengthen our economy. We would hope that any future Minister, whether Northern Ireland Executive or direct rule, would advance this agenda.