The right to lower corporation tax in Wales would be a major step on the road to prosperity, according to one of the world’s top accountants.
That was the message from Brian McEnery, the incoming global president of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), to a group of Wrexham’s most influential business people.
Mr McEnery, from Limerick in Ireland, also gave rare insight into the Irish banking crisis and the part he played in helping the country to resolve it.
He was guest speaker at the annual Christmas gathering of Wrexham Business Professionals (WBP) at the Ramada Plaza.
WBP, which is celebrating its sixth anniversary, is a group of highly skilled firms of solicitors, accountants and other businesses working together to raise the profile of the professional and business expertise that exists in the region and beyond.
The glittering seasonal event, which attracted about 150 key figures from the local business community, heard details of what he called Ireland’s financial “rollercoaster journey” from Mr McEnery.
According to Mr McEnery, Wales could learn a great deal from the Irish experience.
He said: “The way to attract business is by introducing innovative measures like low corporation tax and tax relief, allied to fast track business-friendly planning reforms to promote investment.
“I am certain North Wales could benefit by following the example of the Irish Phoenix which has seen a six per cent growth in our economy over the past year.”
Mr McEnery is one of Ireland’s leading business restructuring practitioners and from next year will head up the ACCA which has 178,000 members worldwide and staffed offices in 181 countries.
In the aftermath of the banking crisis he was appointed to the board of Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) and is also non-executive chairman of Ireland’s health and social care regulator, the Health Information & Quality Authority (HIQA).
Speaking about his role in the “bad bank”, he said: “From 2001 the Irish economy was growing at a phenomenal rate but the growth came not from goods and services but from construction.
“We became a country of pyramid sellers of property. It was almost farcical when you look back on it.
“All of a sudden you couldn’t secure funds on inter-bank markets and one weekend it looked like there was going to be a run on one of the banks.
“The government stepped in to underwrite 450 billion euros worth of deposits held in Irish banks when the country’s entire gross domestic product was only 250 billion.
“It was a rollercoaster journey and a massive failure of our regulatory system.”
In a bid to control the situation, said Mr McEnery, the National Asset Management Agency was set up and he became one of its seven board members, which he described as a “daunting prospect”.
Despite having recovered from the worst effects of the crisis, Ireland still faced a number of serious economic issues such as homelessness and rising rent levels following the damage that was done to the building sector.
Mr McEnery said that the agency’s new task was to oversee the building of 20,000 housing units, mainly in the Greater Dublin area where the shortage of homes was most severe.
He admitted that that Ireland’s economic predicament and the fact that it eventually had to be bailed out by loans from Europe had been a “national embarrassment”.
But he said the turnaround had begun – including an impressive growth rate for 2015 – and a pledge from the government that Ireland would become the best small country for doing business.
Speaking of his influential new role as global ACCA president, he said his goal was to use accountancy to bring leadership and governance to less developed countries of the world by ensuring they had a good professional infrastructure.
Earlier, Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths who is also Welsh Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, told WBP members she was proud to represent a constituency that was so “special and distinct”.
She said: “I see my role as supporting the private sector in creating jobs and prosperity in the Wrexham area.
“We have one of the largest industrial estates in Europe and I frequently escort my fellow Ministers as they tour companies on it, some of which have moved there with Welsh Government support.
“I believe that Wrexham is the economic powerhouse of North Wales and we have some brilliant success stories based right here in the town – the likes of the Village Bakery and the Pendine Park care organisation are leading the way in their own fields.
“That means we are perfectly placed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the northern powerhouse of England that’s been mooted by the UK government.”
She added: “Wrexham Business Professionals has gone from strength to strength and I would like to pay tribute to the wonderful work you do.”
The two guest speakers were thanked by WBP chair Gill Kreft who said: “Lesley and Brian have both given us food for thought.
“The message from Brian about a business-friendly approach to corporation tax and other tax reliefs was very welcome.
“This was the perfect starter for our next meeting which will feature two Welsh Government ministers, Jane Hutt and Carl Sargeant, the climate for business in Wales in relation to tax and planning will be on the agenda.”
The evening was rounded off with a raffle and the auctioning of a photograph signed by two figures crucial in securing Wales’s Euro 2016 qualification, player Gareth Bale and manager Chris Coleman, plus executive tickets for the Manchester United v West Ham clash at Old Trafford.
A total of £2,200 was raised and the proceeds were split between Nightingale House Hospice and Home Start, a charity offering support, friendship and practical help to parents with young children in Wrexham.