Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Boosting the private sector is top priority

University of Ulster economist Mike Smyth is noted for his plain speaking and he certainly did not mince his words in the latest economic review published by the First Trust Bank.

According to him, Northern Ireland is living way beyond its means and has been getting more profligate every year.

The deficit between what the province spends and what local people pay in taxes is an astounding £7.3bn. Essentially taxpayers in other parts of the UK are paying for many of the services we enjoy.

But the good times are coming to an end and it is clear that the public spending cuts are going to be severe in Northern Ireland. Our days of pleading a special case are over, according to Mr Smyth, and we are going to have to be more prudent. Like many others he believes that water charges are now inevitable and cannot be postponed beyond this year.

Other subsidies will also have to be examined by the power-sharing Executive as well as a pay freeze - or even cut - in the public sector, a serious revision of departmental capital plans, and a possible sale of government assets. That is how grim the financial situation facing the province in the coming years has now become.

Crucial to the province's economic future is growth in the private sector. It is clear that Northern Ireland needs a trump card to play when attempting to attract inward investment. As Gavin O'Reilly, chief executive of Independent News & Media, owners of this newspaper, said last night, that ace could be a reduction in corporation tax. It played a major role in bringing new industries into the Republic and has helped to keep many of them there during the economic meltdown.

Everyone accepts that Northern Ireland has too much dependence on the public sector and it would therefore be unfair of the Treasury to put obstacles in the way of regenerating the private sector. At the same time we have to recognise that we cannot expect taxpayers in other parts of the UK to keep sustaining our standard of living.

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