Belfast Telegraph

Assembly backs economic growth plan

The Stormont Executive's four-year plan for job creation and economic growth in Northern Ireland has been rubber-stamped by the Assembly, despite opposition from the SDLP.

The Programme for Government (PfG) sets out the powersharing administration's priorities up to 2015 with a stated focus on tackling disadvantage.

Promoting 25,000 new jobs and achieving £1 billion of investment in the economy are among 82 separate commitments set out. Increasing visitor numbers to 4.2 million and boosting tourist revenue to £676 million by the end of 2014 are also goals.

A number of targets were raised higher after a public consultation exercise on a draft programme, which was published last November.

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, together with ministerial colleagues, finalised the blueprint for the current Assembly term last Thursday and, as expected, it was endorsed on the floor of the Assembly after a full day's debate on the plans.

Mr Robinson commended the programme to his Assembly colleagues. He said: "This is an exceptionally important time in Northern Ireland's history. We have put the conflict of previous decades behind us. Now, we must focus on tackling the everyday problems that each society throughout the world has to face."

Mr McGuinness said the plans had to be translated into hard work. He said: "It is a programme which provides a balanced range of commitments centred on the economy and tackling disadvantage. It is a programme which resonates with the needs and wishes of the people and it is a programme which sees the Executive working together for everyone."

The SDLP was the only one of the five parties represented in the executive to vote against the programme. Its sole minister, Alex Attwood, was not at the executive meeting on Thursday when his ministerial colleagues unanimously backed the final version.

While the party said there were positive elements within the PfG, it said many commitments lacked ambition.

SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly said: "When the Executive gets it right we are forthright in our support but we cannot support a fundamentally flawed PfG which displays little imagination and which, worringly, provides no safety net for the most vulnerable in society."

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