View from the Foyle: Executive return vital for businesses and households

Last Thursday saw over 200 business leaders from the North West and beyond gather at the City Hotel here in Derry.

By Aidan O’Kane
Friday, 11th March 2022, 12:41 pm
Aidan O'Kane
Aidan O'Kane

The President’s Lunch is one of the Chamber’s flagship events, a positive and optimistic occasion which brings together colleagues, connects friends new and old, and is an opportunity to recognise the success and strengths of the local business community. It goes without saying that, after two long pandemic years, this year’s lunch was even more eagerly anticipated than usual.

While there was a palpable optimism in the room and a keen sense that the very worst of Covid is now firmly behind us, with a resolve to now prioritise recovery and rebuild, it doesn’t detract from significant challenges currently facing businesses and households.

The recent removal of all remaining Covid restrictions was a welcome and momentous step for our businesses and our communities. It will allow businesses to trade freely once again as well as bringing friends and families back together.

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However, businesses are coming back to a turbulent and volatile trading environment, one characterised by rising and record prices for everything from energy to materials. Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the cost of living and the cost of doing business was rapidly increasing, putting greater pressure on small business owners, employers, and families across the North West. The war in Eastern Europe is only exacerbating this crisis and it is consumers who will, ultimately, feel the pinch in their disposable income.

For us in Northern Ireland, this comes at a time when we, yet again, do not have a full, functioning Executive. The Chamber has been vocal and clear in our belief that the current impasse in out government is unnecessary, was entirely avoidable, and should be resolved as soon as possible.

It’s clear that public sector subvention and intervention is now necessary to support businesses, workers, and hard-pressed households across a number of areas. These include fuel and energy costs, the cost of raw materials, and rising inflation.

The Chancellor’s planned rise in national insurance will also only heap further pressure on the lowest earners in our society.

But, without a fully functioning Executive, our efforts to support businesses and households are hamstrung.

All this comes as we gear up for the next Assembly election campaign, which will begin in earnest in just a few short weeks.

A quick look at this week’s Assembly business papers shows the immense importance of a functioning and sustainable government in Northern Ireland.

Things as varied and as significant as climate change, adoption, autism, gambling harm, period poverty, and our three-year public budget were among some of the issues and legislation debated this week at Stormont.

The return of the First and deputy First Minister after 5th May is vital for Northern Ireland, for our post-pandemic recovery, and for our communities.

Ahead of the election, the Chamber will be engaging with all parties and all local candidates to strongly convey this message.

Above all else, this is now the key priority – any further delay to the full return of the Executive cannot be countenanced. Political stability and certainty are the basis of success in this place, whether that’s recovery from Covid, attracting new investment and new jobs, or delivering for our communities.

Aidan O’Kane is president of Derry’s Chamber of Commerce.