US economic envoy tells North's business leaders to start investing their own money

 

THE NORTH’S private sector must start investing the significant sums they have in reserve to kickstart economic recovery, US special envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly told business leaders in Belfast.

Mr Kelly, who is US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s economic envoy, said: “You must realise that a transformation of the Northern Ireland economy needs to take place . . . you the private sector must be the driving force behind this change. It’s no longer somebody else’s problem. The reality is this is the time to take a brave step forward and start investing in your own future.”

He later added: “The time has come to call a spade a spade. I’ve spent 16 months in this job and I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen . . . All the tools needed are on the table, we’ve got to make that happen.”

In his address, which left his audience in near silence as a question-and-answer session began, he said the private sector had advantages, ranging from a well-educated and young workforce to the lowest costs anywhere in Britain or Ireland. What was needed was a commitment to investment and to cease blaming others – such as the banks or the British government over its cuts – for the North’s economic problems.

In his impassioned address, much of which was unscripted, Mr Kelly urged private sector leaders: “Bet on your young people or the chance [for success] will pass you by in the click of a finger. Chief executives, many from Fortune 500 companies, talk about their positive experiences here and particularly of the extraordinarily skilled workforce and quality of the young people graduating from the universities. Skills and education were named as the main factors for investment,” he said. “No other place in the world has this.”

He pointed to a string of economic indicators which suggest a sustainable global economic recovery is beginning, but warned: “As governments across the Continent and across the globe are focused on cutting spending, the public sector will have no choice but to reduce employment. The Northern public sector comprises nearly two-thirds of the total economy. Business leaders, political leaders and the British and Irish governments – with EU and US backing – are keen to foster private sector-led growth.”

He said he believed “Northern Ireland is insulated from some of the problems facing larger economies and is actually in a relatively strong position compared to many other regions”.

Mr Kelly, on a one-day visit to Belfast before attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, also met First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Robinson said: “In a period of economic austerity . . . it is more important than ever that we use all available channels to attract inward investment and help grow the economy.”

Mr McGuinness added: “Over many years successive American administrations have assisted us . . . the Obama administration is continuing this work in helping to support a greater economic future in this post-conflict era.”