Belfast Telegraph

Let's work to rebalance Northern Ireland's economy

Editor's Viewpoint

A report comparing public and private sector pay shows that Northern Ireland's economy is not just out of kilter but completely lopsided. Those working in the public sector earn on average 40% more than those in private firms. While the public sector also wins across the UK, the differential is less than half that which exists here.

This is nothing new of course. In fact the gap has narrowed slightly but it is far too wide. It is easy to point the finger of blame at the public sector and say it is paying its staff over the odds. After all, around 60% of public expenditure goes on labour costs.

But that would be to ignore the fact that private sector wages here are well below the national average. Too many jobs in the private sector here are near the bottom end of the pay scale. There has been some recent encouragement in the attraction of new higher-value jobs in the legal, accountancy and technology professions which pay significantly above the Northern Ireland average.

However, these are too recent and too few to make any real impact on statistics, and job creation here is running below the national average. That is not to decry the work of the Department of Enterprise, but rather to point up the scale of the problem facing those seeking new investment or job creation by indigenous firms.

There is one potential game-changer which could speed up the rebalancing of the economy and, according to First Minister Peter Robinson, it could be on its way very soon. This newspaper, among other influential voices, has pressed for local politicians to be given the power to vary the rate of corporation tax. The low rate in the Republic of Ireland - 12.5% cent compared to 21% here - has been heralded as a key enticement to inward investors in that jurisdiction.

Now Mr Robinson believes rate-varying powers on corporation tax will be devolved to Stormont, with the announcement possibly coming next month.

It has to be accepted that this alone is not a magic bullet for economic recovery. Investors also want to be assured of political stability, a society at peace with itself and a workforce with the required skills to meet demand.

Civic unrest, rows between the major parties and potential economic meltdown at Stormont will do nothing to encourage more firms to set up here. Rebalancing the economy is not just about economics.

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