Posted on Friday 23 March 2012 by Ulster Business

We could be business All Blacks

CBI Northern Ireland chairman Ian Coulter, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and guest speaker Sir John Parker, chairman of Anglo American plc.

Northern Ireland should take the same single minded approach to developing its economy as New Zealand takes to its rugby team, according to the chairman of one of the province’s top business organisations.

Making his inaugural speech to a packed audience of over 600 business leaders at the CBI Annual Dinner in La Mon Hotel and Country Club last night, CBI NI Chairman Ian Coulter compared Northern Ireland’s challenges with the success of the World Cup winning All Blacks.

“New Zealand applies a very narrow focus by placing its rugby team first, second and last. If Northern Ireland puts our economy first, second and last, together with an obsession with specific skills, a maximisation of their talent, and a coherent and well understood strategy, then what a force we would be to be reckoned with,” he said.

Mr Coulter said it was correct that the Stormont Executive’s primary aim, set out in its Economic Strategy, is to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy.

“With only a marginal change in the private sector percentage share of GDP since 1993, how do we transition from a public sector dependent economy to one that is underpinned by a more dynamic private sector?” he asked.

“The Economic strategy is a welcome framework for supporting growth in our economy but we need a more laser like focus on our gazelle companies and sectors, if we are to achieve our ambitious targets.”

Mr Coulter called on the Executive to do the following things to achieve this:

  • Sharpen our focus on 5 or 6 core areas, and resist the temptation of trying to be “all things to all men and women”
  • Be obsessive about developing the skills sets to match these priority areas
  • Ensure all stakeholders are clear about the direction of our Economic Strategy, including our schools, universities, parents, businesses, and banks and ensure they have a clear understanding of their role in delivering this game plan
  • Unapologetically support our “future champions” for growth

He added that the Executive “must accelerate cooperation on a number of key areas of intervention” both across Stormont departments and “with our friends in both Dublin and London”, identifying a number of particular areas to focus on.

  • The Executive must ensure that public procurement provides value for money and promotes the long term sustainability for Northern Ireland based firms
  • There must be strong political will to easing the burden of legislation on our SME dependent economy
  • We must work more closely with the Republic of Ireland - he urged Invest NI and Enterprise Ireland to build on their strong level of cooperation
  • Northern Ireland must leverage the Patent Box Regime and increased R&D tax credits which can provide us with a competitive advantage for our knowledge based companies
  • Invest NI must have the autonomy and freedom to support our local businesses including greater budget flexibility – they must not be forced to hand back funds at the end of the financial year

Speaking at the dinner Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, who is also the Tourism Minister, said there had never been a better time for the private sector here to take the lead in rebalancing the economy.

She said the business opportunities presented by the NI2012 campaign running this year extended well beyond tourism.

Arlene Foster said: “The opening of Titanic Belfast and the exciting Titanic Belfast Festival is of course central among the eight international-scale events that we have developed to enable Northern Ireland to shine on a global stage in this hugely important year.”

The Minister added that 2012 was not just about focusing on tourism but rather about changing global perceptions of Northern Ireland by showcasing new and iconic images of this place.

She said: “I believe it will fundamentally reposition Northern Ireland as a positive place not only to visit but to live, work, study and invest. It is about growing a long term sustainable economy.

“It is a golden, unprecedented opportunity for us to use the events of this year to build economic recovery, create new businesses and provide greater employment for people here.”

Over the next four years around £1bn will be invested in transforming the economy into one driven by the private sector and aiming to promote 25,000 new jobs.

Last year 1.8 million tourists visited Northern Ireland, generating £336m for the local economy and helping to sustain over 40,000 jobs across the province.

Minister Foster added: “Perceptions are changing, and of course as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, I want this to continue and accelerate. Our message is clear: Northern Ireland is a great and welcoming place to visit and an exceptional location for business investment.”

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