Posted on Tuesday 17 January 2017 by ub digital
Nick Coburn, President of NI Chamber
The Northern Ireland economy is in urgent need of clarity from Westminster around the UK’s exit from the European Union.
That’s the view of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce which said the relatively optimistic business world here needs certainty around Brexit if its growth is to continue.
Without it, Nick Coburn, President of NI Chamber which represents 1,200 businesses across Northern Ireland, said the ambitious targets set out in the Programme for Government will prove illusive.
“Whilst June 2016 will forever be known as the month the UK voted to leave the EU, 2017 will surely be the year when some detail finally gets put onto that decision,” he said. “At the moment there is no clear direction of travel from the UK Government and that makes it difficult for the NI Executive to plan accordingly.”
The future relationship with the Republic is particularly crucial, Mr Coburn said.
“It is crucial that whatever agreement is reached with the EU results in no ‘hard’ border with the Republic of Ireland. This would be a major setback in economic, social and political relations between the two jurisdictions.
“Being able to trade as freely as possible with the Republic of Ireland with limited bureaucracy and freedom of movement of people living and working on both sides of the border should be a top priority for government in any negotiations.
“Swift reassurance on the future status of EU employees is crucial to retention of skills. Facilitating free movement of people provides business with a wider catchment of workers with relevant skills at all levels.”
Meanwhile, Mr Coburn also said there was an urgent need for clarity on the Apprenticeship Levy.
It is a new payment which large companies will soon be forced to make to fund apprenticeship training.
He said the added financial burden is a burden.
“The timing of the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy from the UK government comes at a time when employers are facing a number of other government imposed costs through the National Living Wage and pension auto-enrolment. Also, the practicalities of the Apprenticeship Levy from a devolved perspective are unclear.
“How will businesses access the fund? How will it work for businesses that are multinational and train centrally or businesses that have staff working outside NI? Will the funds received from the levy in Northern Ireland be ring-fenced for apprenticeship/skills funding only? These are just some of the questions that still remain unanswered as we approach the Levy’s April 2017 implementation date.”