Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Downward spend trend is alarming

Take a look along any high street in any city or town in Northern Ireland and the chances are you will be confronted with some boarded up shop fronts or business for sale signs.

And now we know the reason why. Consumer retail spending has fallen by almost 10% in the last year according to the latest statistics as householders fear for the future.

A steadily rising dole queue - at 60,900 it is the highest since 1987 - shows a stagnating economy with jobs being shed. Little wonder that people are holding onto as much of their money as they can.

Some may argue that Northern Ireland is simply suffering from a recession influenced largely by global factors, but the evidence does not seem to back this up totally. In the rest of the UK retail spending has risen by 1% in the past year. While that may seem a slight increase, it is a quantum leap forward compared to the situation in this part of the UK. The question now must be posed - why are we suffering so badly?

It's a question which the devolved administration at Stormont must find answers to and quickly.

The onus is now on the Executive to introduce some stimulus into the economy and offer people hope. The fact that we still don't even have a programme for government is not a hopeful indicator that an economic boost is likely to be forthcoming shortly.

But it is not just a problem for the politicians at Stormont. They must also impress on the Westminster government that Northern Ireland is suffering economically more than is evident in other regions of the UK.

There is a responsibility on Westminster, notwithstanding devolution, to offer some incentives to kick-start the economy.

We were promised special tax zones and the ability to reduce corporation tax as a way of encouraging investment but neither has yet come to fruition.

The retail spending figures should be a wake-up call to both governments.

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