Belfast Telegraph

Dear David, now solve our Soviet-style economy

By Ed Curran

I thought it was time to devote an Open Letter to you since you will probably be Prime Minister of Great Britain AND Northern Ireland within the next 15 months.

If you do become the lead piper then you will be calling the tune for all of us.

As you know, times are a-changing here. You have only got to look at the reaction to the murders of two soldiers and a police officer to see that. The war is over but the peace is still not won in its entirety.

I am also ashamed to admit that we live in a Soviet Union- style economy, which you, as Prime Minister, will need to address with a lot more determination than Gordon Brown.

It is good news and another sign of normality that the Conservatives and now the Labour party are organising here and should be offering people the opportunity to vote for them in future.

That’s how it should be because it is ridiculously undemocratic for people to have no say in the government of the UK which determines our economic and political destiny.

‘Ulster Conservatives and Unionists — New Force’ is a mouthful of a title for your joint approach. Still, no matter how convoluted it sounds, it will be your policies at the ballot box which will make the difference between winning and losing. From what I gather from talking to your Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, you are looking at new and better incentives for investors to set up business here. It is obvious that the existing grants and subsidies don’t work. We need something more dynamically radical like the establishment of a Northern Ireland Enterprise Zone which I believe you might put in place if you become Prime Minister.

Our dependence on state-funding must be addressed. We cannot go on, year after year, relying on the Chancellor of the Exchequer opening some imaginary roof over Northern Ireland and pouring in more and more billions for Stormont to spend as it wishes. What is required is a radical shift of economic policy towards this region. We need to have more investment advantages and attractions than to date, to kick-start us out of our Soviet Union-style economy which is so hugely dependent on the state.

I note that you are intending to cut corporation tax across the UK. You should look again at the arguments which Gordon Brown rejected in relation to reducing corporation tax to the level enjoyed by our southern neighbours. I hope you can find a way around the objections to lowering this tax to 12.5% or even 10% and include this tax reduction in your manifesto for Northern Ireland.

All in all, it will not be enough for you, David Cameron, to fight the next General Election along with the Ulster Unionists unless you have a new political package to offer.

If you as the potential incoming government can demonstrate through the candidates you field that a vote for them can change Northern Ireland’s economic fortunes for the better, then you should win more support and possibly Westminster seats.

Of course, it is evident that the Northern Ireland Assembly needs a lot of refinement and that the Executive has not delivered as so many people hoped it would. There is also the question as to why 16 of our Westminster MPs should be allowed to double as ministers in the Executive or MLAs in the Assembly. Surely we need 18 MPs devoted solely to Westminster quite separate from ministers and assembly members at Stormont doing a full-time job there.

The most serious issue facing not only Northern Ireland but also the Republic today is the credit crunch. The south’s economy looks like a busted flush, requiring the borrowing of billions and the imposition of crippling taxation on its citizens to stay afloat. Northern Ireland is faring better but only because of the financial life-line tossed across the Irish Sea from the Treasury in London to ensure we don’t sink.

That said, in our Soviet-Union style economy, we are enormously beholden to the state for employment and benefits.

Unlike the south, only a tiny proportion of people in Northern Ireland actually make anything at all. This place is lacking in entrepreneurial spirit because there are so many comfortable, safe, pensionable jobs in the public sector.

In Soviet Ulster, people are employed in the state-run health, housing and education services, a host of state-appointed quango organisations, and a whole range of state-funded community and charitable bodies.

We have also a vast army of workers employed by the Northern Ireland Civil Service and 26 councils.

Additionally we have more dependency than most of the UK on the benefits doled out by the welfare state. The Stormont Executive has thrown in a few goodies for us, such as capping the rates, deferring water charges and offering free prescriptions to everyone, rich and poor alike.

Now, the Finance Minister, Nigel Dodds, is telling London that the annual expenditure bill of £9bn is not enough.

We need more not less, he says, at a time when the local budget is already overspent. At some point, we have to wake up from our Walter Mitty existence.

Unionists and nationalists alike seem to believe Britain owes them a living. The former see subsidies from London as their birthright.

The latter seem to ignore the fact that a united Ireland today and for the foreseeable future would be an economic nightmare that neither north nor south could possibly afford.

If you, David Cameron, make it to Downing St, you may be arriving at just the right time to jolt this province from its economic slumbers. I’m sure you don’t want to preside over a Soviet Union economy. The status quo is no long-term answer to this heavily-subsidised, quango-packed corner of the UK.

I look forward to seeing how you intend to address this crucial issue for the well-being of us all,

Yours Ed

Belfast Telegraph


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