At last weeks’ Council meeting, both the DUP and UUP refused to back my Motion that Council write to the Secretary of State confirming our support for our business community and its recent united voice against a no-deal Brexit.
Instead, DUP and UUP Councillors chose to amend a simple Alliance motion of support for our business community into a crass political debate and use the opportunity to condescendingly accuse our business community of ‘falling over itself’ in its support of the Prime Minister, and not understanding the implications of its stand.
For the first time ever, our business community has spoken with one voice to condemn any possible steps that might lead to a no-deal Brexit. From the CBI to the Federation of Small Businesses and from the Chambers of Commerce to the Ulster Farmers Union, they have made a clear and unambiguous statement that a no-deal Brexit would cause untold damage to their business and by extension to the economy of Northern Ireland.
Frankly, our business community has a right to expect much more from elected representatives, most of whom have never created one job, never risked one pound of their own money and never lost one night’s sleep worrying about their own or their family’s financial future.
A thriving business community is at the heart of the success of our Borough. Directly and indirectly it provides much of the income that allows Council to undertake exciting capital projects like the new Newtownards Leisure Centre and the Belfast City Deal alongside a myriad daily services.
A thriving and successful business community helps provide many of the jobs we all enjoy – and with an ambitious target of 7500 new jobs in the Borough by 2024, we look to business to continue its growth and success.
Perhaps most importantly, a successful business community provides hope for our young people, so many of whom leave our Borough seeking educational and career opportunities elsewhere, never to return. But as our business community grows, so we can offer our young and enthusiastic talent opportunities here that will encourage them to invest their skills and enthusiasm in continuing to build a bright future for our Borough.
As a Council, there is only a limited amount we can do to help business succeed. By providing support and some training opportunities, we can certainly signpost businesses – both new and established – to opportunities of which they might not be aware. And through the recently established Economic Forum, we can work with business to create an environment in which they can thrive. It’s an effective way of saying that Ards and North Down Borough Council is open for – and more importantly to – business.
At their recent Annual Dinner, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce President Elvenna Graham said “After a long period of negotiation we now have a draft Withdrawal Agreement which is undoubtedly a welcome step forward for the majority of businesses in Northern Ireland and it is definitely much better than a no-deal scenario,” and called on elected representatives in Northern Ireland to support the business community in its determination to fight against a no deal Brexit
Clearly our local Unionist Councillors – with the notable exception of Alderman Jim Fletcher – choose to ignore the needs of our business community, preferring instead to make uninformed decisions based on their misconceived bias.
Uncertainty over this Brexit deal has been a killer for business growth over the last couple of years, making it harder not only to hire new staff but also to make capital investments. So while we understand that there is no such thing as a good Brexit, it is business that drives the economy and employment in our Borough and so ensuring growth opportunities are as accessible as possible is paramount to future prosperity.
We are fortunate to have some exciting small growing businesses sitting alongside many already world class ones based in our Borough. Together they provide employment for today’s generation and hope and encouragement to tomorrows.
So when business – owners, managers and employees – asks for support from their elected representatives they deserve to be get it, and we all have a right to be disappointed when that support is not forthcoming