As Assembly candidates across Northern Ireland prepare for the election, a key priority they must keep in mind is jobs. In the economic situation we find ourselves in, jobs are a key issue because every job is precious and a job lost could take years in this climate to get back. I believe that the Assembly should make small business one of its top priorities for the Program for Government because over 90% of businesses in Northern Ireland are small businesses and over 90% of people who work for business work for in small firms. It is a fact that indigenous businesses tend to stay longer in Northern Ireland than those that come in from abroad, so we must nurture them to thrive.
In Northern Ireland we have a strong and proud history of homegrown business success stories that have been built from the ground up. For example Harland & Wolff and Shorts Brothers both started as small businesses and became world leaders in their fields of expertise.
Some in the Assembly wish to lobby Westminster to lower corporation tax, which is all well and good for those large businesses making profit but the facts are that many small businesses are struggling to break even, so a drop in corporation tax would not help them.
The main issues that hold our indigenous businesses back from making profit is the endless red tape they endure to operate through the likes of health and safety legislation, which serves a purpose but is excessive. This needs to be reformed to give small businesses a fighting chance to succeed.
Trying to get a contract with a corporation is difficult because the prequalifications needed are onerous for small businesses simply to bid. They don’t have a chance to compete against multinational companies who spend millions on their campaign for bids. In the NI Executive we must look closely at our procurement process to encourage our local small businesses. By procuring products and services from home grown small and medium business we will promote job creation for local people.
We must work to encourage small business through real tax incentives and tax thresholds that benefit small companies more than the likes of banks and insurance companies that a drop in corporation tax would benefit most.
The bottom line is we have the skills and training available to support and develop successful small businesses in Northern Ireland and it needs to be one of the biggest priorities for the Assembly to support these businesses to create jobs and springboard Northern Irelands economy back on track towards a prosperous future.