Aidan O'Kane: "There are too many things affecting business and affecting people's lives at the moment for any period of stagnation to exist."
A lack of a functioning Executive at Stormont could be detrimental to business in the North West, warns Derry Chamber of Commerce President, Aidan O'Kane.
The uncertainty created by the DUP as to whether of not they would serve in an Executive with a Sinn Féin First Minister as its head would, according to O'Kane, tell foreign investors that “Northern Ireland is not open for business”.
If the DUP's posturing leads to the new Executive collapsing before it even begins, then direct rule from London awaits – and a stagnated Northern Irish economy with it.
O'Kane is hopefully that common sense will win the day and that a consensus can be found for the new Executive to begin – and serve – its full term.
He said: “For the Executive to collapse before it's even started would not be ideal. What we need is for the Executive to return as soon as possible.
“There are too many things affecting business and affecting people's lives at the moment for any period of stagnation to exist.
“We would be calling for a return to the Executive and its formation as soon as possible – regardless of how the final the result plays out.
“The fact of the matter is, without a functioning local government and without local institutions up and running, Northern Ireland would effectively be saying, 'we are not open for business'.
“When potential investors look at where to set up, it's one of the things topping their list – how business is supported by and functions with local authorities.
“It comes down to simple things like decisions being made, support structures being put in place, how is the skills and talent pipeline is supported through education – those things are really important for businesses.
“They look at where to set up and they look long-term. They don't look at coming in, setting up for a year and then leaving.
“Those are not the type of direct foreign investments that we want to attract. We want to attract companies such as Allstate and Seagate that want to be part of the local economy and be here long-term.
“Having a functioning government is the key ingredient for that. We, as part of the business community, call upon those parties that can form the Executive to do so immediately.”
O'Kane admits that should an Executive not be formed, would be harmful for all businesses in Derry – especially the smaller start-ups in the city.
He added: “The business environment in Derry is on the cusp of something great. We have a potential here for the city growth deals, for further direct investments – we're a very attractive proposition when it comes having access to both the European and British markets.
“Our business sector in Derry which is quite diverse – we have established global businesses but we also have those on the other side of the spectrum which are starting out.
“As President of the Chamber of Commerce, I've talked with those businesses on both ends of the spectrum and the ones that are going to be affected most are the start-ups.
“The start-ups and scale-ups are the ones that are most reliant on government strategy to support their growth. They rely on further and higher education colleges – especially North West Regional College and the University of Ulster – as key pieces of their economic jigsaw-puzzle.”
Derry and the North West has had a troubled relationship with Invest NI – which aims to boost business and employment in the North as a whole.
Many prominent figures have accused Invest NI of being “allergic to Derry” with accusations of the body favouring Belfast in terms of investment and jobs.
However, O'Kane warns that situation would deteriorate even further if an Executive in Stormont cannot be formed.
He continued: “The role of Invest NI has been somewhat rocky in the past with regards to regional targets.
“What we need from the likes of a body such as Invest NI are regional targets that ensures that Derry gets special focus in terms of addressing regional imbalance.
“Invest NI is under the Department for Economy. Having that aligned with that Department which would have no Minister in place post-election, would be disastrous.
“Although Invest NI are not fully operating to their potential, certainly not with regards to as Derry wants them to be, with no Executive in place to make that institution work is going to be hugely detrimental to Derry and the North West.”
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