Heat on Owen Paterson to reveal his plans to revamp our struggling economy
Owen Paterson was put under pressure last night to deliver his long-promised plans for turning around Northern Ireland's economy after MPs told him the province was struggling.
The Secretary of State heard petrol prices were the highest in the UK and private sector business activity was reporting the biggest fall in more than two years.
Mr Paterson first announced he wanted to come up with a blueprint for creating a Northern Ireland enterprise zone in 2008 and planned to release it by the end of last year.
During Commons clashes yesterday he would only say that it would be published “soon”.
Shadow Secretary Shaun Woodward said: “The First Minister and Deputy First Minister are asking him urgently for help in Northern Ireland now. He has been in the job for nearly a year, but so far there has been no real help on the economy, just a promised paper on the economy that is still stuck in the printing press.
“Hundreds are losing their jobs at Belfast Metropolitan College, 4,000 more are due to lose their jobs in health and social services, and tens of thousands more jobs will go in the public sector.
“We can all see that it is hurting. When are people in Northern Ireland going to see it is working?”
Mr Paterson hit back saying: “We were in the danger zone in May, but thanks to the measures that we have taken everyone in the UK, including in Northern Ireland, is in a better place as we establish stability in the public finances. We cannot go on spending £120m a day on debt interest.”
The exchanges came as business leaders gave evidence to the Northern Ireland affairs committee, which is investigating the plans for an enterprise zone.
They said the 25-year timescale for the project was too long because it would make it easy for every Government to relegate it to the bottom of its priority list. Instead they called for the plans to be scheduled in for 15 years.