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'No room for complacency' in restoring competitiveness

Enormous work still needs to be done to restore "enduring cost competitiveness" in Ireland that will cement the attractiveness of the country as a place to do business, the chairman of the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) has warned.

Don Thornhill said that while a new report from the NCC on the cost of doing business in Ireland showed that improvements to competitiveness levels had been made, there was scope for more to be done.

"There is no room for complacency," he said. "If we are to face down emerging threats such as increasing global oil prices, a resumption of inflation and potential adverse currency movements vis-a-vis sterling and/or the dollar, Irish policy must deliver outcomes which embed lasting, structural reform."

He said it was imperative that gains made now wouldn't be eroded once growth returned to the economy.

The new NCC report showed that while general prices in Ireland have fallen since 2008, the cost of a range of business inputs remains relatively expensive compared with other jurisdictions, including those for property, calls from landlines, and legal services.

Unit labour costs

It added that unit labour costs here fell 4.4pc last year compared with a 0.46pc drop in the top 25 members of the OECD group of advanced economies and a 0.85pc rise in fellow eurozone member states.

The NCC pointed out that while costs for most business and professional services have shown a "substantial correction", fees for legal services had risen 12pc since 2006.

The NCC yesterday called for the establishment of an independent regulator for the legal profession.

It said the body should incorporate the regulation of training for solicitors and barristers, and be tasked with approving those institutions that wish to provide such training.

The NCC has also recommended that legal services to be provided to the State by solicitors and barristers in private practice should be procured in accordance with the guidelines set out by the National Public Procurement Policy Unit, requiring prospective legal service providers to compete with one another on the basis of cost and quality.

The State has paid about €42m in legal fees for the Moriarty Tribunal, which ended this year. The three senior counsel for the tribunal were paid, including VAT, €9.6m, €9.3m and €6.8m respectively.

The NCC said that suitably qualified practitioners should be able to undertake property conveyancing duties alongside solicitors, while solicitors should also be able to act as lead counsel when advocating in court with a barrister.

It also called on the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) to provide more information on the loans that it has acquired and how it proposes to deal with unfinished developments, as well as its criteria for future provision of development finance, and on how NAMA assets will be disposed of.

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The NCC said that the move would provide more certainty about the long-term viability of the commercial property market.

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