Back in 2007 power-sharing at Stormont resumed, following the St Andrews Agreement. In the warm afterglow, the Financial Times published an editorial pointing out that the next task for Northern Ireland’s politicians was to ‘promote the private sector’.
To underline the urgency of reform, the paper noted that, back then, “the government employs about one third of the workforce” and “the proportion of people of working age who are economically inactive is 27.7 %”.
Seven years later, about one third of workers are still employed in the public sector and economic inactivity sits at 27.4%, the worst in the UK by some distance.
These statistics are damning. Over the course of seven years, the Executive, under DUP / Sinn Féin, has made no progress on creating private sector jobs and has made no impact on changing Northern Ireland’s economy for the better.
You can look at most of the other big issues which we faced in 2007 - the mess over the transfer test in education, reform of the health service, division in our society, a struggling water service – and say the same thing.
All of the parties at Stormont recognise that our economy cannot continue to rely on the public sector and that the key is to create more sustainable, private sector jobs. Yet they fail consistently to focus on attracting investment, encouraging companies from Northern Ireland to export goods and helping people to become entrepreneurs.
It’s easier to have the same old sectarian arguments, about the same old traditional issues, than to work to build a successful economy.
NI Conservatives believe that the Executive’s priorities should be jobs, jobs and more jobs. It should cut red tape, use the powers which the government provided to create enterprise zones - which act as hubs for new employment - and offer special incentives for businesses to export goods, bringing money into Northern Ireland’s economy. It should start using the money the Chancellor has provided to build schools, roads and hospitals.
Unfortunately, 2014 is likely to be dominated instead by quarrelling about the Haass talks.
Back in 2007, the Financial Times concluded its article by emphasising that the executive has ‘little time to lose’. Seven years later, surely it’s time for voters in Northern Ireland to use the forthcoming elections to tell the current Stormont parties that their time wasting will be tolerated no longer.