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Northern Ireland Assembly Elections 2017

FSB Northern Ireland is calling on all the successful candidates to recognise the need to put small businesses first, to ensure jobs and growth.  FSB’s 2017 Summary Manifesto sets out the key issues our members have identified, highlighting problems and proposing solutions, so that our newly elected politicians can be clear on the priorities of small businesses as they progress from campaigning to negotiating to governing.

FSB NI Assembly Elections Manifestom 2017

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. 

Message from Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster

DUP Party logo

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.

  • The economic inactivity level in Northern Ireland has fallen to 26.5%, still too high but the lowest in our history.
  • Research & Development expenditure hit at an all-time high last year rising by 24% last year to £750 million.
  • Exports by Northern Ireland companies rose by 6% in the past year, making us the best performing UK region. 
  • Nearly 5,000 new jobs have been promoted so far this year by Invest NI.
  • Our economy grew by 1.6% last year, with that growth being driven by the private sector.
  • External visitor numbers increased by 8% last year to 2.5 million, the most ever.
  • Median gross weekly earnings for full-time employees increased by 2.2% this year, making it the second consecutive annual increase in inflation adjusted earnings.
  • Over 3,100 new manufacturing jobs were created last year, an annual increase of 4.1%.
  • And unemployment is at its lowest level since 2008.

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.

Message from Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill

Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein’s Commitment to SMEs, Sinn Féin will work to:

Political stability

  • Put the political institutions on a stable footing by creating an Executive based on respect and integrity, and that is committed to delivering for all our people.

Defending Economic Benefits of Europe

  • Seek special status within the EU.
  • Maintain freedom of movement and trade, free from tariffs and regulatory barriers.
  • Protect EU investment in business.

Fair Taxes

  • Maintain rates relief for manufacturers.
  • Increase rates support for small retail and hospitality businesses.
  • Revitalise city and town centres by introducing a rates holiday for commercial premises that are converted to residential use.
  • Introduce an affordable and harmonised Corporation Tax across the island.

A Level Playing Field in Public Procurement

  • Break up public sector contracts into smaller lots.
  • Remove unnecessary tender conditions from public sector contracts.
  • Prevent a race to the bottom on price by ensuring that scoring criteria for public contracts gives due weight to quality.
  • Introduce a Social Value Act to ensure that the added benefits provided by social enterprises are recognised and supported.

Strengthening our Infrastructure

  • Protect energy supply and affordability by delivering a north-South interconnector.
  • Develop a world class Transport Hub in Belfast.
  • Strengthen the roads infrastructure by delivering the A5 and A6.
  • Extend fast-speed broadband to rural businesses.
  • Enhance air connectivity.

Message from Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Mike Nesbitt. 

Ulster Unionist Party

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 ( 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.

Message from SDLP Party leader Colum Eastwood

What will Brexit will mean for Northern Ireland and how will their interests will be represented and promoted?

sdlp logoWhat will Brexit will mean for Northern Ireland and how will their interests will be represented and promoted?
The SDLP have been warning of the negative impact Brexit will have on small businesses for some time. The potential introduction of tariffs, the devaluation of our currency, additional barriers to our supply chains and skilled labour all will have a detrimental impact on small and medium businesses in Northern Ireland. 

8 months on from the referendum and before Article 50 is triggered we have already seen the impact of last summers decision on the local economy. 

The SDLP have published a detailed set of proposals outlining what special status for Northern Ireland would comprise. This includes continued access to the European Single Market, the maintenance of free movement of goods, services, capital and people and a continuation of the various streams of European funding such as the Common Agricultural Policy, PEACE funds and Interreg. To this end we are engaging in a continuous series of meetings with the Irish and British governments and our European counterparts. The SDLP are the only party in Northern Ireland to belong to one of the main political groupings within the European institutions and we are using this membership of the European Social Democratic family to ensure that the circumstances and needs of Northern Ireland are firmly on the agenda. 

The SDLP have made restoring political and economic stability a key part of our platform in this election. We have warned that the interests of Northern Ireland and the interests of small businesses will not be served by the reintroduction of direct rule. 

How confident are you that agreement will be reached within three weeks of the election and a new Executive formed?

The likelihood of any agreement being met is based on the results of the elections on Thursday the 2nd of March. The results of any elections are not pre-determined and we have been calling, with others, for a change of approach to powersharing and a change of government within Stormont.  On Thursday 2nd of March, people can vote for parties that will form a government based on partnership. We can have a government that prioritises economic stability and prosperity, tackling the challenge of Brexit, and building a broad based society. 

There are two futures on offer on Thursday. We either count down to division, deadlock and direct rule or we have three days to make change happen and defend devolution.

Business creation in Northern Ireland lags significantly behind other areas of the UK so, 

- What will the SDLP do to boost entrepreneurship and business growth amongst small businesses?

The SDLP have proposed and supported a number of business stimulous and growth projects at Assembly and local government level. These include the creation of incubation units, support programmes for new and first time business owners, rates exemptions and relief, and closer working between business and education providers. 

- Our members are calling for action to tackle the following barriers to business:

Will the SDLP commit to prioritising these?

• Tackling red tape/bureaucracy/regulation
• business rates, especially for the smallest businesses
• broadband provision
• business taxes, including taking powers over corporation tax and committing to a lower rate of 12.5% or less  
• late payment

The SDLP is committed to a continuous and ongoing deminuation to evident barriers to trade and business. This includes the prompt and complete payment of invoices from public agencies to private business, an equitable and accessible public procurement process and the reduction of needless bureaucracy and an equitable fiscal framework covering both rates and other forms of taxation. We remain committed to seeking additional tax variance powers for Northern Ireland including Corporation Tax. We wish to see an expansion of Project Kelvin connectivity and the provision of high speed broadband across Northern Ireland. 

What will the SDLP do to drive forward improvements to road / transport infrastructure; address energy prices; improve the availability of skilled and unskilled workers; mitigate rising employment costs?

A prosperous economy requires a modern and resilient physical infrastructure. That means investment in transport networks, telecommunications, water, energy and the labour market. 

The SDLP is committed to a significant step change in Executive investment in infrastructure after years of underinvestment and non-delivery. We believe this can be funded through the block grant, by more effective draw down from European Infrastructure funds, through partnerships with local councils and by agreeing new city and regional devolution deals. 

A vibrant and equitable economy cannot operate without a modern roads network. For decades chronic underinvestment means that today Northern Ireland’s road network is no longer fit for purpose. 

The current funding model cannot and will not deliver projects on time or within budget. The SDLP will explore additional funding options to ensure these projects happen. 

At present Northern Ireland has no Infrastructure Strategy - we will agree an Infrastructure Strategy in conjunction with the Dublin government, to span the next twenty years and ensure we have modern infrastructure systems fit for the 21st century. 


Message from Alliance Party leader Naomi Long

AllianceWe 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:

  • Developing a comprehensive strategy to rejuvenate high streets and town centres, and persuade the Northern Ireland Executive to introduce funding reforms where necessary. 
  • Working with councils to ensure that they establish a formal mechanism to hear the voice of businesses in their new community planning process.
  • Supporting reform of the rates system, including the potential expansion of the Small Business Rate Relief and making it easier for businesses to set up in vacant premises and promote growth. 
  • Considering amendments to procurement rules that make it easier for small businesses to bid. Examples include: improving information available to applicants, tackling the complexity of the process and reducing the ‘bundling’ of procurement contracts.
  • Ensuring economic policy is assessed for its impact on small businesses. 

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.

FSB members in Northern Ireland repeatedly cite ‘political instability’ as their greatest concern when doing business here. This election will give the parties a mandate to return to the Assembly and recommence the business of government, so FSB is urging all of the successful candidates to play their part in delivering the political stability that our members seek, and to do so expeditiously.