Saturday, 27 November 2010
In its full unblurred glory here. Text below the break.Building the 2021 economy
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Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen
It’s great to be here with you today and help conclude this session on the economy.
I apologise for arriving late at our conference today but my daughter had her second transfer test this morning. Thanks to this party, my daughter was able to choose to do the test. For all Ruane’s petty-minded games, we as a Party have retained academic selection.
Today I want to outline my vision for our economy in 2021. It is no accident that I choose the date of 2021. It will be the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland. When we celebrate that centenary I want Northern Ireland to be the economic success story of the Union. Despite our present difficulties, I believe that we have much to look forward to but it depends on our Party giving the leadership that is required.
My vision is that by 2021, any child who is currently transferring from primary school to secondary school will be able to get as good a job in Northern Ireland as they would be able to get in London, Edinburgh or Dublin. For too long Northern Ireland has exported its best assets in the form of young people.
There is no doubt that the economy is currently going through challenging times. Jobs have been lost; many viable companies are struggling to get sufficient credit to stay open or expand; hundreds of private sector workers have agreed to reduce their work hours and many more have agreed to take a voluntary cut in their salary. It is only right that we recognise the small businesses and thousands of private sector workers throughout Northern Ireland who have made these sacrifices. They have accepted the pain now to ensure that their businesses can survive and grow again in the future. They have been mature about the difficulties they faced. Conference I don’t need to tell you how much I love Northern Ireland and over these past two years I have been incredibly proud of how our people have dealt with the recession. We are a stoic and realistic people but above all I believe we are passionate about “our wee country” - I know I certainly am.
Over the next number of years this Party will redouble its efforts to rebuild the economy and provide employment. Northern Ireland has a lower unemployment rate than elsewhere in the United Kingdom but unemployment costs: there is the human cost of despair to the person without work and the cost to Northern Ireland plc of human talent going to waste.
I believe that we can create thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland by encouraging new business starts, supporting strategic sectors such as the agri-food and tourism sector, pursuing high quality foreign investment and by working in partnership with the social economy partners who work so diligently at grass roots level.
We need to continue working with our existing businesses to ensure that we can provide the help that they require to survive in the future and rebuild post the recession. Over the last number of years we have supported businesses by putting a cap on industrial rates a policy that should continue into the future. In my own department we were able to support businesses with a short term assistance scheme and an accelerated support fund.
There is no doubt that our challenges facing our local economy will have increased as a result of events in the Republic of Ireland - the so called Celtic Tiger On the 20th anniversary of the demise of Margaret Thatcher’s political career, it would be easy to say we told you so. The single European currency experiment was always going to fail but unfortunately we in the sterling zone are going to feel a chill wind from the grey skies of the Irish Republic. There can be no doubt of the importance of the Republic of Ireland economy to Northern Ireland both as a trading partner and as a source of finance through the two Irish banks that operate in Northern Ireland.
For these reasons, it is vital that steps are taken to ensure that conditions are attached to the terms of the UK bilateral bail out to ensure that the Northern Ireland interests are protected. It certainly will not be acceptable for UK money to be made available and for jobs to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland. It is right that the strategic national interest is served by a bilateral loan to the Republic but it is also in the strategic national interest to protect the Northern Ireland economy as part of the wider UK economy.
I believe that we in Northern Ireland are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Many of our manufacturing companies who export goods beyond Europe have seen a significant improvement in their order books over recent months. I have visited manufacturing companies like Terex and F G Wilsons who have seen their orders improve and are back recruiting employees.
As an aside may I also welcome the increase of one particular export - yes Gerry Adams. With hundreds crossing the border to shop in Northern Ireland I propose today that we should give the people of Louth a special buy one get one free offer - yes with Gerry we will also throw in Ruane free of charge!
Beyond short term rebuilding our aim for 2021 must be to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy. Since the Westminster election we have heard much talk from our Secretary of State about helping rebalance our economy but no action from the Treasury. He dangles lower corporation tax as the means to transform the economy. Mr Chairman I agree with him that it would be a useful tool. It would help bring new business into Northern Ireland. It would help our existing companies. It would give us a competitive edge whether our competitor is the Republic of Ireland or India.
However it is a tool that will have to be paid for. On this the Secretary of State is mute. What it is going to cost Northern Ireland in terms of a reduction in the block grant must be outlined. If the Secretary of State is genuine in his commitment to help Northern Ireland rebalance the economy he will work to ensure that the level of corporation tax is reduced for Northern Ireland at a price that can be afforded and in a manner that does not harm our existing businesses.
Over the last number of years we have attracted a number of major companies into Northern Ireland. Over recent months companies like Citi, GE Energy, Dow and Terex have all made significant investments in Northern Ireland. Over the last 12 months we have attracted more inward investment into Northern Ireland per head of the population compared to the Republic of Ireland. In the next 12 months there is more to come. We should never allow the naysayers to talk our province down. Northern Ireland attracts these blue chip companies because Northern Ireland is a blue-chip place to invest. And with these new companies we are not only providing jobs for our young people but we are also providing opportunities to bring our ex-pats home.
Over the coming years in order to make this party’s vision into a reality I believe that we need to invest in two things- our people and our infrastructure. It is vital that we train our young people in the correct skills for today’s market place whether it is quality engineers for the likes of Wrightbus or financial services graduates for companies like Citi. We need our world class colleges and Universities to become closer aligned with the skill requirements of the workforce.
We also need to continue to invest in our infrastructure to ensure we have conditions required by businesses to compete in the global market place. We need to continue to improve our roads network, improve our energy infrastructure whether it is gas or electricity and improve the telecoms infrastructure.
Conference, in Northern Ireland we have much to be proud off. We have a workforce who is intelligent and highly skilled; we have a location that places us well between the Americas and Asia, in Europe but not in the Euro. We are competitive in operating costs with excellent universities and colleges, we are building up strong clusters in life sciences, engineering and financial services.
In conclusion through decisive action to tackle this downturn, we will rebuild and by continuing to attract world-class companies, increasing productivity and managerial leadership we will rebalance. By rebuilding and rebalancing we will create the vibrant economy the Northern Ireland of 2021 needs and deserves and we will keep Northern Ireland moving forward.