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Sammy Wilson warns that Executive must do better on economy

By Noel McAdam

The beleaguered Executive is today to receive a “must do better” message on Northern Ireland’s battered economy — from its own Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

With ministers under challenge to boost their public image — as well as delivery across a range of policies — Mr Wilson will admit the performance of the Executive on the economy in recent times could have been improved.

In a keynote address, the DUP minister will confess he and his Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionist and SDLP colleagues have not done enough to advance long-term economic growth in the province.

He will also use the speech in the Republic today to again signal to his Executive colleagues that difficult decisions lie ahead.

Latching onto demands for the power-sharing partnership to tackle issues which matter most to voters, particularly in the run-up to the expected General Election on May 6, Mr Wilson will admit to concerns over how the Executive has delivered on its number one priority — the economy.

As ministers prepare to develop a new three-year Programme for Government, the Finance Minister is to make clear that it is difficult to see any significant change in policy focus towards economic growth over the last few years.

His comments come after First Minister Peter Robinson insisted the Executive has been taking decisions, while along with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams acknowledging ministers must deliver more.

The DUP leader told the Assembly this week the current administration, now approaching its third anniversary, has taken 539 decisions — compared to the last administration, led by the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP, which took only 320.

Mr Wilson will today argue he can list a host of measures the Executive has implemented to help people, including businesses’ cash-flow problems assisted by the introduction of a 10-day prompt payment target; the freezing of the non-domestic regional rate and three-year freeze in regional rates, along with free transport for OAPs and prescriptions shortly to become free for all.

But he believes it imperative that what we invest in generates economic returns in areas such as research and development and innovation, mathematics and technology skills, as well as the lessening of regulatory burdens.

Mr Wilson will also warn the Executive will need to take some difficult decisions about economic policy.

Stressing he remains cautiously optimistic about prospects for the province in coming years, he will set out three challenges he insists need to be addressed.

First, there is the reliance of the local economy on the public sector which accounts for some 32% of employment in Northern Ireland, against an equivalent in the UK figure of only 21%.

Secondly, the fallout of the implementation of the Irish government’s National Asset Management Agency which has implications for the banking sector and wider economy.

Thirdly, with the province itself a small market of only 1.7m people, meaning we need to focus on becoming an export economy.

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