8 November 2018 | By Adrian Moynihan Community

We need a spirit of partnership

Adrian Moynihan, Head of First Trust Bank, reflects on CBI annual lunch in Northern Ireland – and the importance of working together

We were delighted to support the CBI and join with business colleagues at the recent CBI annual lunch in Titanic Belfast where our guest speaker was CBI President, John Allan.

At this critical time, it was an important platform to ensure the voice of business was heard and the messaging was consistent on a number of fronts. Brexit of course was a dominant theme and there was consensus that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit was unthinkable and needed to be avoided at all costs.

A lot of focus has been and remains on what type of Brexit deal we will have, if any, and how this could define our economy and our society for future generations. Less discussed is the negative impact Brexit is having right now.

Last month we saw a great example of the power of partnership in practice when the CBI joined with 20 other leading NI business organisations to make the case to the Prime Minister and the British government for regional flexibility when it comes to immigration policy – especially in a post Brexit World. This is in light of serious concerns they all share about current and future labour shortages across many sectors of our economy.

The time to be practical

As this partnership rightly highlighted, Brexit is having a negative impact on the availability of labour right now. We also know it is impacting on business investment. Our latest AIB all-island Brexit Sentiment Index continues to show sentiment towards Brexit firmly and stubbornly in negative territory, mainly due to the lack of clarity around the form it will take. It also tells us that one in two investment or expansion plans here in Northern Ireland are being postponed or cancelled as a direct result of Brexit. This affects investment levels, jobs and economic growth and is very worrying, especially the longer time goes on. 

As we enter the final stages of the Brexit negotiations, the voice of the business community has our voice must be heard loud and clear. By nature, business people are generally measured and rational people. More often than not they will make practical and pragmatic decisions – having weighed up the pros and cons before coming to a conclusion. This type of thinking is critical at this time as a counter balance to the rhetoric and ideology expressed elsewhere.

The threat of protectionism

The CBI lunch also saw support for a spirit of partnership and collaboration – across the business sector and among our politicians. Partnership is about working together not against each other. It’s about being open and looking outwards not being insular. It’s about accepting that you don’t know it all but collectively we know more together.

Worryingly, over the last two years at a global level there has been an increasing trend, both economically and politically, towards protectionism at the expense of partnership. Recent surveys of CEOs, including one from KPMG of UK CEOs, have suggested that a return to protectionism is the number one threat to growth in the world economy.

We have unfortunately also seen the damage done when partnership isn’t working the way it’s designed to do.

The failure of our NI politicians to deliver on the agreed partnership arrangements over the last 18 months represents an abdication of responsibility and contrasts with the mood of the business community and the wider public here in Northern Ireland – where the majority clearly want devolution and through that platform – a clear voice within the Brexit negotiations.

Recent moves by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to bring some decision-making clarity for civil servants is somewhat helpful but is no replacement for a full functioning and accountable NI Assembly and Executive. We hope the parties start reengaging and building the necessary trust to get the partnership government back that we need, and we deserve.   

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