Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Stormont needs to fight our corner

Every day, it seems, there comes some new indication of the crisis in the Northern Ireland economy.

The 11.8% rise in the number of people officially classified as unemployed during the last year - with the doomsday prediction that the current claimant count of 57,000 could top the 70,000 mark within the next 18 months - is irrefutable evidence of just how deep the recession here is. And most worrying is the fact that unemployment is continuing to rise here while it is falling in the UK as a whole.

It is patently evident that Northern Ireland is the worst performing region of the UK. That, in large part, can be explained by our high dependence on the public sector which accounts for nearly 70% of the local economy. In the past, the public purse insulated the province from the worst effects of recession, but that will no longer be the case. Indeed, our fragile economy faces even greater peril ahead because of the looming cuts.

The economy cannot be reconfigured quickly to produce a greater equilibrium between the public and private sectors, although that should remain the long-term aim. It is not clear if that message is grasped by the Westminster government, which seems determined to treat the province just like every other region. Promises of tax incentives to help woo new investment remain just that - promises. Even if implemented, there are no guarantees that any companies will decide to set up here until brighter economic conditions apply worldwide.

Of course, the power-sharing Executive at Stormont must seek to alleviate the worst of the public spending cuts by tailoring policies to fit the reduced budgets. But the parties also need to make a coherent and cohesive argument to the Treasury that Northern Ireland's economy is so fragile that it deserves special consideration when funding cuts are implemented. There is plenty of evidence to back up their argument. The crux is to make Westminster listen.

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