Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott has called for greater rewards for success within the private sector.
Mr Elliott was speaking at the fourth of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce's '5 Leaders, 5 Days' seminars in which politicians outline their plans for the economy in front of the business community.
He also slammed what he described as the 'failure' of a mandatory coalition Government and has called for an officially recognised and funded opposition by 2015 at the latest.
"We must reward success within the private sector," he said.
"On occasions those who have been finding their way in business have accessed grants and funding, just to get money. This is often the wrong way round. Assistance should be available to those who have demonstrated success and want to progress. This would result in a much more efficient use of public finances.
"I have promoted the idea for some time that we need more people from the private sector in senior positions within the public sector, as many of those within the civil service have no real knowledge of the workings of the private sector."
He added that, on average and in aggregate, Northern Ireland is falling further behind not just the rest of the United Kingdom, but much of the rest of the world and that since the mid-1950s there have been 15 major reviews or strategies for Northern Ireland's economic development, but the region continues to lag behind the rest of the UK.
"Average incomes in Northern Ireland outside of Belfast are now only two thirds of those in the rest of the UK," he said
"Figures from the IMF for 2010 suggest that living standards in Shanghai are now also two thirds of the UK average.
"So, there you have the challenge. It's no longer about just catching up with England or Germany or France - we are also falling behind the 20 million people living in the richest city in China."
He said that the answer does not lie in simply slashing and burning the public sector, particularly in the middle of a recession, but in growing the private sector, enhancing the power of the social economy and ensuring each and every public service job has meaning and purpose for the post holder and public alike.
On the issue of corporation tax, Mr Elliott said that should the decision to lower the rate be taken, the UUP believes it should be done incrementally, over a number of years.
"The implications for a differentiated corporation tax rate for the Block Grant must be addressed, for example, with an imaginative review of non-domestic rates," he said.
"A 5% VAT rate on the repair, maintenance and improvement of domestic dwellings would mirror the advantages of the existing rate applied on the Isle of Man - which was enabled by the Treasury's successful lobbying of the EU for derogation."