Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Heseltine's wake-up call to Westminster

Lord Heseltine's proposals for economic growth contain a wake-up call to the government, bluntly blaming Westminster for not doing enough.

His report contains a whopping 89 measures to provide stimulus, but the focus is on Britain and not here, and hence their impact locally could be minimal. Certainly London is not keen to devolve more effective powers to the regions and Northern Ireland's politicians seem reluctant to press the issue.

The exception of course is corporation tax which once again has been stalled. While there has been no viable alternative put forward by critics of the push for a lower rate of corporation tax here to attract inward investment, Westminster is scared of handing such tax-varying power to the province in case Scotland also demands it during what is bound to be a high-profile independence campaign.

And even some members of the Executive seem scared of the price that the Treasury may demand for allowing tax cuts.

It has to be accepted that Northern Ireland's devolved administration, welcome though it undoubtedly is, has some way to go before it reaches the maturity of those in Scotland and Wales. We have a strange all-party coalition instead of the usual system of government and opposition and this seems to stifle rather than help the decision-making process. We also have to create a new form of local government which has been put on the long finger for too long.

These are essential parts of the jigsaw which have to be in place before there can be a real attempt to rebalance an economy over-reliant on the public sector. The structures to implement some of the Heseltine proposals are not in place, even if the political will existed.

While there is broad consensus that something must be done in the face of lengthening dole queues and economic stagnation, the approach so far has been piecemeal and the strategy built more on hope than on dynamic initiative.

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