Call for £250m growth fund

A £250 MILLION fund should be established by the Stormont executive to help companies grow, a leading business body urged last night.

That level of financial backing from ministers would demonstrate that the administration is serious about encouraging firms in the north, according to the regional chairman of the Institute of Directors (IoD).

Mervyn McCall, speaking at the IoD dinner in Belfast, said the European Investment Bank was to likely co-finance a fund of that size.

“The money needs to cover all aspects of our economy – high-tech start ups, budding entrepreneurs, first time exporters and established businesses requiring funding for growth and working capital,” he said.

“I don’t believe it’s possible for the banks to begin lending again on the scale required any time soon and we can’t wait for the next initiative from Number 11.

“To date, none of George Osborne’s programmes have had any effect on businesses in Northern Ireland. We need a local solution.

“The Department of Finance and Personnel, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Invest NI have implemented some good initiatives which are helping growth but they are just not enough.”

Calling for an export-focused business community, Mr McCall stressed the IoD’s view that a reduction in corporation tax was needed.

The British government is considering devolving the power to set business tax rates to the executive but no decision has been made.

If the responsibility was transferred it would enable ministers to bring the rate down to a level similar to that operating in the Republic – 12.5 per cent.

“Northern Ireland suffers because of its lack of competitiveness,” Mr McCall said.

“In areas like Newry or Derry, the Republic may only be a few miles away but it is an impossible gap as far as taxes are concerned.

“We must also have the economic benefit at the heart of planning decisions, just as it should be at the heart of all decisions by the executive.”

The IoD booked a somewhat novel businessman as guest speaker this year – lead singer of rock group Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson.

As well as being a heavy metal star, Dickinson is also a qualified commercial pilot and heads Cardiff Aviation Ltd, which specialises in heavy maintenance of Airbus and Boeing commercial aircraft.