Belfast Telegraph

Sammy's basking now before heat's turned up

By Margaret Canning

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson can bask in the approval of business leaders today, as his draft Budget received considerably more bouquets than brickbats.

There was some sense of schadenfreude as private sector bosses can now look on and watch civil servants face the pay and recruitment freezes which have beset private business for close to two-and-a-half years.

Francis Martin, head of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that making the public sector less attractive to work in could be what the economy needs. "Public sector salaries have been too high and have disincentivised staff from joining the private sector, via employment or setting up their own business.

"If we are to rebalance the economy in the medium to long term then this is the first step in ensuring that private sector wages can compete for the best and brightest here in Northern Ireland."

Construction finally had something to celebrate, and it seemed like months of earnest lobbying had paid off for bodies like the Construction Employers Federation, as Mr Wilson divulged a list of capital projects which could be salvaged from the round of cuts.

He also announced a rechanneling of £250m from current spending into capital. John Armstrong, head of the CEF, was pleased with the early Christmas present. The federation has reiterated that every £1 of public money spent on construction generates £2.84 for the economy.

Mr Armstrong said: "In this budget the Executive has recognised the social and economic benefits of construction activity. We warmly welcome the plan to switch £250m from the revenue to the capital budget. This will lessen the impact of the 40% reduction in the capital element of the block grant and will allow some desperately needed building projects to proceed."

Joanne Stuart of the Institute of Directors also applauded Mr Wilson's £18.8m jobs fund, which Invest NI estimates will create around 5,000 jobs in the long-term.

The Budget's environmental benefits were noticed by Ulster Bank chief economist, Richard Ramsey, who pointed out that the Executive's proposed 15p plastic bag levy was the Executive's first attempt to use a fiscal incentive to change economic behaviour. But he cautioned that it was a Budget drafted with an election in mind.

Mr Wilson should perhaps enjoy the approval while it lasts.

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