Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Chancellor's bitter pill for our economy

I n spite of numerous meetings with Northern Ireland politicians the Chancellor, George Osborne, seems to have no understanding of the province's economy.

The facts are quite simple. The public sector is the main employer and accounts for around 67% of the economy.

Anything which diminishes the public sector has a disproportionate impact on an already fragile economy.

Mr Osborne has been told this repeatedly yet, next week in his budget, apparently intends to freeze the wages of public sector workers to enable the private sector to catch up.

There is no dispute that Northern Ireland's economy is unbalanced and needs a more vibrant, larger and higher paying private sector.

However the time to do that is when the economy nationally and globally is in rude health. Only then is there a realistic chance of encouraging more indigenous entrepreneurship and attracting high value foreign investment.

Now is certainly not the time to do it, with unemployment at record levels and foreign investment prospects sluggish at best.

What Mr Osborne is proposing runs a very real risk of tipping the local economy into recession. Evidence of the perilous nature of the local economy is all around us.

A walk down any high street will show the vacant buildings once occupied by both national retail chains and local businesses. The only bright spot is the prospect of increased tourism fuelled by the Titanic centenary and the success of our golfing heroes.

There may be no votes in Northern Ireland for the coalition government at Westminster but that does not mean it should be insensitive to our plight. But then Mr Osborne seems intent on ignoring public feeling even in his home territory by cutting the 50% tax rate for the highest earners.

At a time when ordinary people - those still lucky enough to have jobs - are struggling to meet their bills, he is going to hand a windfall to the very wealthiest people. Uncaring may be the kindest description of Mr Osborne.

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