SPEECH BY STEVE AIKEN CEO, British Irish Chamber of Commerce British Irish Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference Aviva Stadium Dublin, 25th January 2013 Ladies and Gentlemen, may I thank the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for his remarks and may I also take the opportunity to thank him for his personal interest, and support of the Chamber, in particular to the Energy SubCommittee, and for his, and the Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Rt Hon Edward Davey MP, for their sterling work in bringing the Energy MoU to fruition, and also for giving us the opportunity to host the signing of it here, at the British Irish Chambers of Commerceâ€™s First Annual Conference. May I also take the opportunity to thank all of our other speakers, key leaders from industry, representing the broad spectrum of our business space, our partners in Central Government, in particular Secretary of State for BISS, Vince Cable, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Culture, Jimmy Dennihan and Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, and their teams in Ireland and in Whitehall, and across all the Islands, and may I give a special set of thanks to the First Minister of Wales, the Deputy First Minister of Scotland and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment from Northern Ireland. I would also like to thank our sponsors, in particular AIB whose commitment to this event, to the Chamber, in fostering UK and Irish business links and the SME sector, and also to their strong commitment to our future development, We thank you. To the Irish times for being principal media partners of the Chamber, and also for being key leaders in the informed, well argued and reasoned debate surrounding British and Irish Issues, To Invest NI, for helping us develop our links across all the Islands and for helping to support our members, particularly in the SME and agricultural sectors. To ESB, who have been instrumental to helping our all Islands focus. To UKTI, without whom these burgeoning business relationship across the Irish Sea would be much more difficult. To Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, and Bord Bia who have allowed us to become fully involved in discussing and helping to shape policy and a more pro-business agenda across these Islandsâ€™ To the British and Irish Embassies and the invaluable and essential support they have given, in particular the support from their Excellencies Bobbie McDonagh and Dominic Chilcott, both of whom have become firm advocates and friends of the Chamber..
Which just listening to this list of supporters clearly demonstrates the importance of this vital business space amongst our Islands, an economic space that needs to grow if our companies, our workforces and our opportunity to expand and invest is to be realized. It seems for all that has been achieved that the Chamber and its aims and objectives have been at the forefront of our joint relationship for many years, whereas, remarkably, it has only been 22 short months since we were established. I think we can all agree, that never has a relationship been of greater importance to our mutual benefit, understanding and wellbeing…and those members who had the foresight to form the Chamber are to be heartily congratulated. However I want to talk about looking forward, into 2013 and beyond. Firstly, we have welcomed the placing of business and economy at the centre of our relationships. Indeed, our Conference, taking the main ideas for ‘Gathering for Action’ has looked at how we can deliver Joint Business Opportunities across these islands in 2013. And we have welcomed the commitment of both the Prime Minister and Taoiseach as outlined in the Downing Street joint statement in March last year, as a clear signpost over the coming decade of how we can foster economic opportunity and to call, where it makes sense, for a much more integrated, interdependent and interconnected approach…for all our mutual benefits. Indeed, looking at figures over the last few years the two way flow of trade in goods and services represented €54 Billion; and while we have all heard the comments with reference to merging economies and the UK, the reality is Ireland is the destination for 6% of all UK exports, and the UK is represents the destination for 15% of all Irish exports.
We have already seen the manifestation of this increased commitment, for instance with the going live of the electricity interconnector, the detailed economic study being conducted by PA consulting, (in which your Chamber is heavily engaged). And within your Chamber, your policy groups which many of you have contributed to over the last few months have identified some key areas in which we can work with Government to advance areas of opportunity. Our Food and Agribusiness sub-committee has highlighted the importance of this sector to our economies, With the UK being Irelands biggest food export market, however, conversely, Irelands is the UK’s largest market, with the UK exporting £3.2bn worth of food and drink in 2011, and as both Britain and Irelands population continues to grow, we will become much more mutually dependant on each other..both for our own food security, but also working together to achieve export sales across a wide variety of global markets.
Specifically, in this Sector we are calling for: Further cooperation on Knowledge & Innovation (in the areas of Higher Education, Research and Business); The promotion of the sharing of best practice on regulation by, improving ties between the FSA (Food Standards Authority) and the FSAI; Promoting cooperation on Sustainability and Food security; We also need to create a structure to identify areas of collaboration outside of our Islands; for instance looking to leverage buying power or working together on accessing new markets from a trade perspectiveâ€Ś.And this may feed across to other sectors as well. We also need, and this is a common theme across all our businesses to work together to reduce the high costs of our logistical & supply chains across the Irish Sea and beyond to enable our members to deliver lower and more competitive prices for our customers. In the Cultural, Arts, Sports and Tourism space we need to support initiativesâ€™ like the Gathering, for which we are proud to have helped publicise and to co-brand with, supporting other initiatives such as Derry/Londonderry UK City of Culture, developing business opportunity out of our rich joint cultural heritage, but recognising that we also need to work hard to arrest the fall in numbers of UK visitors to Ireland, with a drop of 200,000 in two years. We also hope, through the two governmentâ€™s economic study that we can help build a deep understanding of the true value of this important sector, in terms of direct employment, revenues and quality of life but also for its vital role in attracting talent, investors and visitors to choose these two islands over competing global alternatives. In support of that we also need to encourage greater movement of people across these Islands, and we as a Chamber are strong advocates for the abolition of Air Passenger Duty across the Irish Sea as a stimulus to growth, and we believe that the exchequer would be more than compensated by the increases in VAT receipts from the greater movement of our people across the Islands..And we also a resolution to the airports capacity debate in the South East of England as an area of importance to our members, and the wider British/Irish economies as a whole. We as a Chamber also believe that the Culture, Arts, Sports and Tourism sectors are, and will increasingly be, catalysts for powerful new collaborations between them and commerce; helping create more than the sum of the parts and greater sustainability for all involved. In particular we are looking forward to the many opportunities this year brings to highlight our rich heritage in this area, from promoting Wexford Opera, Derry/Londonderry UK City Culture, the British Irish Race Day at Leopardstown on the 7th of June, to the Ireland/England Cricket 1 day test in September, and to Ulster winning the Heineken Cup here in the Aviva stadium.
Since our inception as a Chamber we have also come to acknowledge that much of the growth we need in our economies will come from our SME sector; a sector that has been hit hard of the current economic turmoil, but one from which a sustained economic recovery can spring. Our SME’s members recognise that the UK and Ireland represent excellent markets in which to learn how to export and to develop; however we also understand how difficult it is for SME’s to gain traction, to get investment and to grow in these challenging times. We also recognise and are very appreciative of the efforts of UKTI, Invest NI, Enterprise Ireland, and the IDA to help these sectors grow. We are also exploring partnerships, including with the agencies and with AIB, firstly, on this side of the Irish Sea to assist SME’s learn about, and how they need to prepare themselves for tapping into the UK market, we are also looking to how we can help the smallest start ups to export, on either side of the Irish Sea. We are also looking at how governments and other stakeholders can also, potentially, help provide ‘export collectives’ – enabling, for instance, the sharing of resources and potentially sales people; we are also calling for a UK version of Connect Ireland, again providing a key avenue for SME growth. Both Britain and Ireland are rich in entrepreneurial talent, as well as talented professionals, engineers, salespeople, scientists amongst others and as part of recognising these skilled workers we need to research the importance of the Diasporas. The Irish business Diaspora in Britain, but also the British business Diaspora here in Ireland. We again fully support existing initiatives’ in this area, however we are also as a Chamber in the process of setting up an ‘Executive Leaders Forum’, this will bring together future leaders from within our Chamber membership, both in Britain and here in Ireland, to enable them to enhance and develop their managerial, leadership and entrepreneurial potential and in keeping with our commitment to the future we will be offering a Board place for one of our executive leaders….enabling them to have a foretaste of working at the non-executive director level with many of Britain and Irelands top business leaders, and to help develop the future of the Chamber as we continue to expand. We also recognise the huge importance of the Energy Sector, a sector which we see as being on the Cusp of Transformational Change and we were delighted that the Memorandum of Understanding on Energy between these Islands was signed here at the Conference yesterday and we will be fully engaged with all stakeholders as the benefits of this agreement are realised, across all energy sectors. Over the coming decades we will see a fundamental change to the energy landscape across the Globe occurring at an unprecedented pace. The change will be transformational and the electricity and gas sectors will be at the very centre of this becoming progressively more important to national and European economic and industrial policy.
And unfortunately, as recent events in North Africa have shown, Energy security will be of considerable importance to all of us on these Islands as we deal with the increasingly compelling need to address Climate Change. A challenge that will be, probably, the issue of our time…and it is important to note that our members are at the leading of the rapid development and deployment of innovative technologies in all parts of the energy supply chain. Furthermore we also see the drive towards complete integration of markets across the EU both at a physical level through interconnection and at a trading level through rules harmonization We see also see the energy sector working towards decarbonisation with our manufacturers and energy providers striving to introduce low carbon technologies, which we anticipate will become the norm as we progress towards mid-century. We are anticipating that across these islands Electricity generation will be provided by a mix of on shore and offshore wind, solar, ocean, biomass and carbon capture and storage of gas and coal plants…and in Britain, Nuclear will remain part of the energy mix complementing the other energy sources. While each of these technologies have their own particular deployment, system integration and cost challenges, System Operation and Energy Policy requirements will dictate a need for balance and diversity across each of these. We also believe that Electricity networks will become much more interconnected and intelligent. They will be integrated from the customer to the power source by the deployment of smart technologies and that Electricity customers will control their use of energy heralding a new era of energy efficiency driven by information technology into the connected home. As a Chamber we also commend both Governments for the focus they have placed on energy matters over recent years and advocate a continuation of that. It is clear to us that working together will achieve much more than working apart. Our energy systems are interconnected and while we face the same overall challenges, we each have differing and complementary capabilities and expertise which taken together have the potential to deliver a better outcome for energy consumers across the UK and Ireland. The Chamber is also developing other policy areas, in Banking, Regulation, Manufacturing, Construction, Retail and Distribution amongst others. In the banking arena we are continuing to build on our links between the City of London and the IFSC, we are also looking at how we can bring our banking and Financial services sector back in from the ‘cold’; and we fully support the need for a strong wellregulated, sustainable sector that is responsive to Businesses needs.
We also seek an easing of appropriate credit facilities by our Banks to enable our many members to help grow and expand. We are also hopeful that we will be successful in gaining an equitable resolution to the promissory note issue, and welcome our governments’ efforts in striving to achieve this. We are also calling for other initiatives’ that we believe will help these islands. We would welcome an all Island corporation tax level of 12.5%; we would like to see the costs of intercommunication reduced, including studying and implementing ways to both reduce the aforementioned APD and also to increase other aviation opportunities, we need an investigation on how the cost of shipping can be reduced and in how we can improving distribution across the Islands; We would also advocate for the building of strong Broadband links across these Islands –‘superfasting’ for all,….and also we are calling for the easing of visa restrictions to allow for ‘all island visas’ for emerging markets.. As an output from this conference we will be feeding back our ideas to our Governments, both national and regional, to inform the forthcoming economic studies, to raise issues and to act as a conduit for an informed and open dialogue between ourselves. However we are not just creating a wish list for busy ministers and civil servants, we also need to address how our members, representing jointly, over €38 Billion’s worth of turnover (not to mention around 54,000 jobs) can also promote growth and opportunity. However we also recognise many challenges on the horizon, the continued sluggishness of our primary markets, continued problems in the Eurozone, and the slow return of growth in the US, the rising shift of economic power to Asia, are all areas that we as a Chamber have concerns around, and as both Britain and Ireland are amongst two of the most globally focused economies in Europe, these are issues that will remain of considerable concern, in 2013 and beyond. We also recognise the important role that Ireland has to play as it hosts the EU Presidency, with issues of the budget to be resolved, important EU US trade agreements to be agreed, and helping to manage the ongoing Eurozone issues in conjunction with our other European partners (and we thank Minister for Europe Lucinda Creighton for taking time out of her extremely busy schedule to be with us today). However, and the issue cannot be avoided, uncertainty is anathema to business, and while we, as a chamber are avowedly apolitical, and have no wish to be seen to interfering with the choice of the British people, it is clear that our members, including many British companies, do have concerns over the growing debate around the UK and Europe….
Having polled our members we believe that Britainâ€™s continued membership within the Single European Market is vital for all our future plans for investment over the coming years, and especially as we look to work ever more closely in the years to come. So what of the longer term as we look out to the end of the decade and beyond. We see your Chamber capitalising in our strongest joint sectors â€“ in Energy, Agribusiness, Manufacturing, Retail, Innovation, Media, Distribution, Transport, Construction, Tourism, Culture, Banking and Business Support services. And having grown from a small nucleus of 22 members 22 months ago, to over 200 members today, we believe that your Chamber is well on Course to represent you, as the Focal Point for the British Irish Business Space both now and into the future. Finally, we could not have achieved anything without our Members - your hard work, commitment and support, in both time, resource and interest, and may I thank you, at the end of our first annual conference, for all that you have done so far as members to make your Chamber a success, and may I also, thank you in advance, for all that we are going to do together in 2013 and beyond.
Speech by Steve Aiken British Irish Chamber