We will need the combined talents of both the public and private sectors — plus help from an Executive which is committed to developing our entrepreneurial spirit — to make sure young people get the skills to start their own businesses
One of the great advantages of not being a politician is that you can give opinions about anything without any practical responsibility. Our politicians do carry practical responsibility, however, and the candidates for the upcoming Assembly election are, at least, prepared to stand up and be counted.
That we have an Assembly at all after our turbulent past is in itself a very significant success, but there remain many serious and difficult issues that our small country needs to resolve if we are to offer the world an example in leadership, harmony and achievement.
It is only by approaching these issues with a common-sense attitude that embraces balance and understanding, as opposed to one that continually promotes the extreme, that we will be able to move the economy forward.
Our future success will come from within, from our own talent, guts and determination, so our new MLAs need to work hard to promote and encourage our private sector.
Nurturing a strong belief in our intrinsic entrepreneurial spirit (accept inward investment, certainly, but let's get the balance right) is essential. We also need to communicate that ‘can-do' spirit, so we need not only our politicians, but our media to get well and truly behind local business.
As for the public sector, common sense tells us that we don't need the number of public servants we currently have to run 1.7m people, but in sorting out this issue the new Executive should not allow a rift to develop between the public and private sector. The taxpayer has a right to expect to pay fair wages for fairly delivered public services, so the creation of a benchmark for public-sector salaries alongside the CBI/IOD/Chamber salary surveys (including doctors and lawyers) would promote harmony.
Can we encourage public servants to leave public-sector life and join the private sector? Can we bridge the attitudinal gap? Can we make it worthwhile for both sectors? These are difficult questions, and we need the brains of both sectors working together to help us achieve our economic goals.
We also need to encourage our schools to promote business as a first-choice career, as well as to encourage our young people in believing that they are just as good as any other young people in any country in the world — and perhaps even better.
How can we do this? We need to examine how business sense can be built into our education system at a very fundamental level. Young people need to know about business from business people, teachers who have experience in the commercial world and prime movers in industry.
They need to leave school or university informed about how the business world actually works and how the subjects they learn form not just the basis of a career working for someone else, but a career running their own enterprise and employing other people. This is something that can be driven only by Government.
If I could wave a magic wand our young people would emulate successful entrepreneurs rather than Big Brother contestants or third-rate celebrities in a Northern Ireland where every young person has the spark, drive and confidence to create and grow their own business.