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Editor's Viewpoint: It's time to think big over ailing economy

Published 09/11/2012

The loss of around 200 jobs at the Patton construction firm is another body blow to the local economy after the 1,000 jobs at FG Wilson earlier this year.

In both cases it will mean a very difficult Christmas for many families and the economic effects on the communities where these firms are located will also be felt in the long term unless replacement employment can be found. These are blue chip firms with longstanding reputations and the falling fortunes is a grim indicator of how the construction and manufacturing sectors have been decimated in recent times.

The ability of the power-sharing administration to provide much-needed stimulus to the economy is limited given its diminishing public spending powers. But it would be churlish to deny that its £200m initiative aimed particularly at helping young people and the long-term unemployed as well as providing some rates relief for businesses and help for construction firms is a welcome boost. It seems well-targeted and innovative and is a sign of the Executive's concern at the state of the economy.

Yet the initiative is like a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. The Executive needs to make decisions on a macro level including cutting corporation tax, what to do about water charges, how to manage fracking, or how to slim down government and use the savings to provide an economic boost. Some of these decisions are easy. Corporation tax can be introduced if the Treasury permits it. Water charges will be politically unpopular and seen as another tax on people who are working as everyone else would get the charges paid for them or reduced. The long promised reform of local government is still awaited.

What is certain is that Northern Ireland's economy is in poor shape and showing little or no sign of recovery. Indeed it's vital signs are declining and it may soon need defibrillated to kick-start it back into life. While not decrying the latest Executive initiative, it is clear that its vision must be on a greater scale.

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