'Scrap immigration barriers in Ulster' says CBI

The UK government's current Brexit plan would add 'huge cost and complexity' across some of the UK's industries. The CBI suggests a digital skills action plan for Northern Ireland to overcome skills gaps.

A map of the UK superimposed over a Union Jack flag
More than nine out of ten businesses in Northern Ireland are worried about a growing skills shortage in the province, the president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has revealed.Addressing the organisation's annual lunch in Belfast, John Allan emphasised the “enormous potential” of the all-island economy and stressed the importance of unlocking the Brexit deal.But to achieve this potential, he said the skills shortage must be tackled with measures including a simpler immigration system to enable Ulster firms to attract overseas talent.“Businesses are achieving amazing things all over Northern Ireland. We must keep those success stories going. But to do that, Northern Ireland needs people," Mr Allan said.“96% of our members here say skills shortages are a growing problem, with a particularly concerning gap in digital skills - cloud computing, data analytics and other technical subjects. A need that will surely grow in coming years.“So how do we meet this challenge? One recent solution is a digital skills action plan for Northern Ireland.“Next month, the CBI will be launching a new report outlining exactly what this plan could look like. Recommendations include removing barriers in the existing immigration system, harnessing the insight of NI businesses to understand skills needs, and getting the right funding to the right places, particularly in further education.”
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On the current political logjam over Brexit, Mr Allan said Northern Ireland businesses were anxious to protect their position both in the UK’s internal market and across the island of Ireland.He said businesses welcome moves towards a deal that guaranteed the rights of four million-plus citizens living abroad in the UK and EU.“But for them," he added, "it’s not as simple as ‘getting Brexit done’. Firms have known for some time that this is just the start of years of further talks, treaties and tête-à-têtes. But companies have serious concerns about the current direction of the future relationship.“The political declaration, in its current form, would end decades of free and frictionless trade with our largest trading partners, forged by firms big and small. It would add huge cost and complexity across some of the UK’s world-leading industries. And it falls a long way short on services, which make up just under 80% of the Northern Ireland economy."Mr Allan said Northern Ireland businesses needed "urgent clarity" from the UK government on how Northern Ireland’s place in the internal market was to be protected. He said businesses in the province simply could not afford for the next phase of Brexit to continue to drain investment and growth.

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