Colin Walsh CBI Chair encourages the Executive to tackle the tough issues

Colin Walsh CBICBI Northern Ireland held its 2014 Annual Dinner  at The Ramada Plaza, Belfast. In his remarks, CBI Northern Ireland Chair Colin Walsh noted the importance of the Northern Ireland Executive setting aside recent political difficulties to focus on tackling key challenges such as education and skills, public sector reform and energy.

The evening also included a keynote address from Sir Mike Rake, CBI President. The event was attended by over 500 senior business leaders and political representatives from across Northern Ireland.

Opening his remarks, Colin Walsh welcomed the introduction in the Budget of a pilot enterprise zone for Northern Ireland. However, he reinforced CBI Northern Ireland’s position on Corporation Tax devolution saying: “This must remain our primary focus in both the business and political communities over the coming months as we approach the Prime Minister’s decision in the autumn. Other initiatives must not take attention away from this fundamental goal which has the ability to help transform the economy.”

Colin Walsh also used his speech to focus on a major CBI theme – promoting gender diversity in the workplace. Commenting, he said: “To make change a reality, we know that some difficult questions will need to be asked but that ultimately, the agenda of equality is one that companies need to embrace.

“For us, that means making a conscious effort to address diversity issues in the planning of our activities. It means looking to achieve a better balance at our senior level. Through the work of our own Women in Leadership series that brings together local businesswomen to share their expertise and best practice, we believe we can stand over a record of improvement that is beginning to put us in a better place in terms of inclusivity and equality.“

Colin Walsh focused on three key areas that he believes the Northern Ireland Executive must place a renewed focus on in the coming months: education and skills; public sector reform and; energy.

In a clear call on the Executive to ‘get it sorted’, Mr Walsh called for better joined-up government when it comes to careers advice and guidance, reflecting on a recent CBI report – ‘An Evaluation of Education and Employer Partnerships in Northern Ireland’.

He said “We need to massively improve the quality of careers education and advice our children receive, including providing better labour market information. We must also improve co-ordination of activities and deepen the partnerships between business and education”.

Calling for a solution to ongoing concerns in the energy sphere – particularly in respect of cost and interconnection, the  Colin Walsh said: “Bar one other country, we have the highest industrial energy costs in Europe and poor availability of supply in many parts of the province as well.

“Clearly this undermines the competitiveness of many of the major industries we have, and makes it virtually impossible to attract projects like data centres as inward investments…There have been a succession of reviews and inquiries, but none of this appears to be addressing the cost to end users in manufacturing and we are in real danger of losing some of these crucial manufacturing jobs. The Executive must get this sorted”.

On public sector reform, Mr Walsh noted the roadblocks to reform – and the need for the Executive, collectively, to take them on to enable better and more efficient public services to be delivered. Mr Walsh said: “Advancing new models of service delivery, seeking to innovate in public service delivery, allowing new technologies to achieve their full potential in terms of bringing service delivery closer to the people. That is a vision with which we agree – but it is crucial that all Ministers around the Executive table now buy into it”.

With regard the current political situation the CBI Chair congratulated the united image that our politicians continue to portray on the international scene, and the dividends that accrue from this. He also stressed the need to find solutions to the issues addressed under the Haass talks and bring these to a resolution.

Colin Walsh concluded by saying “Success will build further confidence in the economy and add momentum to the economic recovery. It will help bridge divisions that remain in parts of our community, to build trust and respect, and improve relationships.

“It will enable all of us to collectively focus on the key issues we need to address in order to create better paid jobs and more of them, reduce unemployment and create a fairer society.

“My message to the Executive from the CBI is ‘Please, redouble your efforts and try to get this sorted’”.

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