Belfast Telegraph

Everyone can make a Fresh Start and turn 2016 into a success

By Neil Gibson

Christmas is a joyous time of the year but one I also find rather reflective. It is a time to be thankful for what we have, consider those less fortunate and set out resolutions and plans for the year ahead. Often the diets don't last and the promised good behaviour does not materialise but at the end of 2015 and the start of what is being referred to as Northern Ireland's 'Fresh Start' it is a time to reflect. So in a break from normal service this article looks in a rather more positive way at 2015 and the prospects for 2016.

Looking positive

Job growth was strong: More people are in work at the end of 2015 than at the start, most sectors have enjoyed growth outside of public administration. Invest NI has continued to attract new firms and help others expand at an impressive rate. All 11 super council areas have enjoyed falling levels of unemployment.

Our neighbours are growing strongly: Ireland is topping the Eurozone growth charts, the UK has reached record employment levels and the US has enjoyed such a healthy labour market it has felt able to raise interest rates.

People are getting wealthier: Wage increases have outstripped inflation which has been historically low.

Public services continue to deliver: Despite cuts and undoubted pressures our public services continue to perform.

We have a government and a Fresh Start: Though the soap opera of in government/out of government can be exhausting it was refreshing to see the Fresh Start agreement come with an actual announcement on corporation tax. In addition we have a new First Minister with a strong record in economic development.

Hopes for 2016

A truly inspiring Programme for Government: With the forthcoming elections comes a new Programme for Government. If it is built around a short easy to grasp list of outcomes that the government can coalesce around as a unified direction of travel this will be hugely beneficial.

A Fresh Start narrative: Let us hope the Fresh Start theme continues and moves off the strategy page and into actions. We need ideas and solutions and to 'try a few things' even if they do not all work.

Upturn in investment: Economically there is not enough investment in NI. We need to see an uptick in building to capture the maximum benefits from the Corporation Tax effect. A more generous capital settlement should mean the public sector will be playing its part.

A proper debate about revenue raising: Northern Ireland still wishes it could live in a world of Texas taxes and Swedish public services. It is time to be honest - we need to pay more for some of the things we want to have. So how best to raise revenue, to transform the rates system into something that incentives not penalises investment, to shift behaviours though ingenious taxation models and encourage people and firms to invest more in themselves are all laudable aims for 2016.

As the Policy Centre produces its winter forecasts in early 2016 there are many reasons to worry, the economy is performing on the back of a consumer already heavily indebted and austerity is still with us. But this is not a time for sober realities, we can return to that in future columns. For now, let us reflect on a region that is not nearly as weak as is often portrayed, that has shown genuine employment success in 2015 and though 'a Fresh Start' may be a soundbite, let us try, each and every one of us, to do something to make 2016 a new beginning.

Happy Christmas and a prosperous new year to my fellow columnists and all readers.

Neil Gibson works in the economic policy centre at the University of Ulster

Belfast Telegraph


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