Pay divide should be wake-up call
It is encouraging that the dole queues in Northern Ireland have continued to shorten for 15 months in a row, but that does not mean that the economy is in rude health. The salary statistics obtained by this newspaper show our workforce is among the poorest of the UK, with pay some £6,000 a year below the UK average.
The depth of the recession is shown by the fact that average pay here now is around £2,500 less than it was five years ago.
Of course, London pay rates distort the UK average, but our position would be even worse in relation to other regions if not for our large public sector, which has significantly increased our average earnings.
It is clear that we need more high-value private sector jobs here and that means attracting more inward investment. An important lure to overseas investors would be a reduced corporation tax rate which would put us on an equal footing to the Republic, our nearest competitor for new jobs. It is vital that the power to vary corporation tax rate is devolved to the Assembly as soon as possible.
In spite of many promises to do so, this has not yet happened and that is to our detriment.
But there also appears to be a low wage mentality in Northern Ireland where even professional, finance and scientific jobs attract lower salaries than the UK average. These are the sort of jobs that we want and need, but that does not automatically mean that they will pay the dividends that they should.
However, we must continue to provide opportunities for our brightest and best young people if we are to keep them. They are the entrepreneurs and high achievers of the future and if they are forced to seek their fame and fortune elsewhere, then the economy here is a loser. Our report today should be a stark wake-up call to the Assembly to redouble its efforts to rebalance the economy. Much good work has been done, but more is still required.