Executive must prioritise economic growth
In an astonishingly frank speech at the All Island Infrastructure Investment Conference in Dundalk on 11th March, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said he believed the Executive had not done enough to advance long-term economic growth in Northern Ireland.
Addressing delegates at the 5th annual event, the Minister said: "Our Programme for Government was published over two years ago and I believe that, when you look at the progress we have made in developing our economy’s long term growth potential since then, the outcome might be judged rather disappointing.
"If I ask myself what we have achieved as an Executive in terms of policies to promote economic growth, I can point to a number of short-term demand-side focused initiatives. We have frozen domestic rates; we have delayed water charges; and we have introduced fuel subsidies for poor households.
“These measures have served as an immediate stimulus during a difficult time and demonstrated the Executive’s ability to act swiftly in response to the economic downturn. I would argue, however, that we have not done enough to advance long-term economic growth. We need to ensure that we do not lose sight of the importance of improving the supply-side of our economy.
ENDURING AND TANGIBLE RETURNS
"The Executive will soon begin to develop our new Programme for Government. Our current number one priority is ‘growing the economy’ but I worry about how we have actually delivered on this. It is difficult to see any significant change in policy focus toward economic growth over the last few years.
"It is imperative that we invest in a manner that generates enduring and tangible economic returns. In developing our new Programme for Government, in a tighter financial environment, the Executive will need to take some difficult decisions about economic policy. Rest assured however, that I personally will do all I can to ensure that the economy remains firmly as the number one priority in Northern Ireland."
Mr Wilson concluded by highlighting the importance of infrastructure to economic growth and said: "Government has a responsibility to invest public money in the right areas to deliver a modern and prosperous economy in the future. This is how we can maximise returns from tax-payers’ investment. I firmly believe that investment in infrastructure and economic growth are intrinsically linked."
NIM CAN MAKE POSITIVE INPUT
Welcoming he Minister’s comments, NIM Chief Executive Bryan Gray said: “We have met with the Minister on several occasions and outlined the difficulties faced by our members in the manufacturing sector and by business in general. We are pleased to see that he has got the message and intends to act upon it.
“The manufacturing sector has been hit desperately hard by the worldwide recession and in particular by the recent huge hikes in energy costs. The latest research released by the Ulster Bank, as outlined on page four of this issue of NIM Focus, confirmed that private sector activity is falling at a faster rate than in the past ten months and that the recession is far from over in Northern Ireland.
“We look forward to hearing the Minister’s proposals to get the Northern Ireland economy moving once again and trust that Northern Ireland Manufacturing can make a positive input into the Executives plans. We appreciate the fact that there are significant difficulties facing the Executive, as it needs to significantly tighten its belt, and it is heartening to hear the Minister express the sentiment outlined in his speech at the All Island Infrastructure Investment Conference.”