Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Job bonanza is message for the doorsteps

Celebrating the news at Schrader Electronics Ltd's Antrim facility are (from left) Stephen McClelland, Schrader Electronics managing director, Alastair Hamilton, chief executive, Invest NI, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and Graeme Thompson, Schrader
Celebrating the news at Schrader Electronics Ltd's Antrim facility are (from left) Stephen McClelland, Schrader Electronics managing director, Alastair Hamilton, chief executive, Invest NI, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and Graeme Thompson, Schrader

Credit where credit is due – Invest Northern Ireland has been pulling out all the stops, just as Peter Robinson predicted when he told me last month to look for a string of job announcements, many of them high end. The problem is that the investment is coming against a fairly dismal economic backdrop.

Pay isschrader

 still low here and our recovery continues to lag behind the rest of the UK. Jobs are also draining away from the retail sector, a trend which is likely to continue as consumers, particularly the better-off who have computers and credit cards, move online.

Even among the brightest and the best, there is despondency and doubt over whether higher education is worth the mountain of debt involved, in spite of subsidies to university fees.

Thirty-seven per cent of students here are considering dropping out over money worries and 8% actually do leave in their first year at the University of Ulster.

This is a sobering backdrop and, as the marching season opens, it emphasises the need for politicians to remain firmly focused on both jobs and living standards.

By introducing a living wage for its employees, Belfast City Council has set a good example, which will ease the lot of families and pump money into local shops and services. The lower-paid don't blow a pay rise on yachts, or foreign holidays; they put it right back into the regional economy.

It is worth listing some of what has been promised and achieved. The decision of Concentrix, a call centre company, to create 1,000 more jobs here last month shows the willingness of companies to reinvest in the region.

It happens at the higher end – in January, the legal firm Allen and Overy created 67 new jobs here, taking advantage of our surplus of law graduates.

More recently, there have been 241 new manufacturing jobs at Schrader and 486 high-end accountancy jobs at EY (formerly Ernst and Young). The list could go on.

This shows that, as the world emerges gingerly from recession, we can ride the recovery – if we remain focused on the economic essentials as a society.

Yet there is still so much to be done that we could instead remain trailing other countries and regions if we concentrate on past division, rather than future hopes.

An election – and there are two this month – provides the perfect opportunity to tell politicians out canvassing what society wants from them.

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