‘I want to champion Newry wherever I go’ – Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls
“I want to champion Newry wherever I go”. Those were the words a packed Canal Court today heard today from British Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls.
The event attracted almost 200 delegates representing Newry Chamber members and the wider Northern Ireland business community along with NI Assembly Ministers, political leaders and other high profile guests.
The session opened with an introduction from Orla Jackson and a speech from the Newry Chamber President, Cathal Austin.
Orla, from Newry Chamber started by acknowledging the great and good in the local business community as well as paying tribute to the members of Newry Chamber for their tireless work in the area.
Newry Chamber President Cathal Austin spoke warmly of the “resilient, resourceful and entrepreneurial” spirit of the people and businesses in Newry and reiterated his belief that Newry’s location – in a central area nestled between Belfast and Dublin – as the city’s ‘greatest asset’.
He also discussed some of the difficulties faced locally by Newry businesses, with the downturn in the economy not only in Britain but also in the Republic of Ireland, which has led to to highest levels of emigration since the height of the ‘Troubles’ and with a staggering 20% of under 25’s currently unemployed.
However, it was not all bad news as Austin also advised that there are growing opportunities in the Newry and Mourne area with the release of 78 acres of land in the Carnbane industrial estate by Invest NI, which Austin believes will be a prime location for investment and development.
There was some humour too in Austin’s speech, especially when he labelled Ed Balls as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to which the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer quipped, “I hope you’re right!”.
Austin concluded by urging Labour to champion “Newry as a place to invest.”
The second half of the session began with the Key note speech from Ed Balls, who echoed Austin’s sentiments by declaring that Labour will be the “Champions of Newry Business,” and that Newry was on a “crucial corridor” between Belfast and Dublin.
The Shadow Chancellor stated that, “kick-starting the Northern Ireland economy out of recession is of vital importance; delivering jobs and long-term investment are vital to securing the economic and political future of Northern Ireland”.
He made an unequivocal commitment, “that the Labour party was determined to work closely with local stakeholders to make that happen, to secure a prosperous future for Northern Ireland and help ensure that all citizens can share in that rising prosperity”.
The Shadow Chancellor added that, “Newry is one of the success stories of the peace process. A decade on from being awarded city status, it has placed itself at the centre of the economic corridor between Belfast and Dublin.
“Its enviable location as a hub of cross-border economic development has transformed the entire region. And the innovation shown will encourage further accolades to go alongside Newry’s status as a fair-trade city, one of the first in the UK and Ireland.”
Ball singled out local business First Derivatives for praise, describing the now global brand as one of Newry’s key success stories, growing from seed funds of £5k to employing over 600 people and headquartered in Newry.
“This is kind of success we need to build upon and replicate and it is our commitment to work with you to do that.”
Ball also assured those in attendance that Labour is still committed to “delivering future prosperity” in Northern Ireland but that currently under the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats the British government is “not delivering on promises of thriving prosperity and a better future for young people in Northern Ireland.”
Ball went on to blast the current UK government for “not rising to the challenge, they have to accept that the Northern Ireland economy is more exposed to the Euro Crisis, more exposed to spending cuts and that the economic legacy means that the Northern Ireland economy needs more help, not less.”
An issue that many in the audience felt strongly about is the debate surrounding Northern Ireland’s corporation tax. Ball stated that labour are ‘open minded’ about the discussion on devolving the power of corporation tax to Northern Ireland.
He remained tight-lipped on whether it was feasible, adding that it was a “difficult decision as to whether or not it will be effective, but in the mean time we should be acting to get the economy moving.”
Ball concluded by adding that in order to achieve lasting peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland the UK government needs to work in partnership with the Northern Ireland Executive and the Republic of Ireland in order to take advantage of the great opportunities that exist in Northern Ireland.
Legal Editor at the Irish Independent, Dearbhail McDonald then grilled Ed Balls in a little more depth about corporation tax, the controversy over the scrapping of GCSE’s and to add a little humour to the occasion, questioned him about his piano skills.
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