Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Labour helped peace here, we will aid prosperity too

The next Labour government will put securing Northern Ireland's economic future at the top of the agenda, write Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker

The Good Friday Agreement was one of Labour's most important achievements in government. It promised a generation in Northern Ireland that theirs would be a better future.

Together we set ourselves the task of forging a lasting peace by cementing it with rising prosperity shared by all. That is why we are so worried by what is happening in Northern Ireland's economy today.

Northern Ireland has been hit harder by the double-dip recession made in Downing Street and forecasts suggest it will take longer to recover than the rest of the UK.

We have consistently warned David Cameron's Government that raising taxes and cutting spending too far and too fast would choke off economic recovery. Sadly, that is what has happened.

Unemployment has risen to more than 8% in Northern Ireland. Nearly one-in-four young people is without a job. Almost half those without work have been unemployed for more than a year.

Before the general election, the Tories raised the prospect of a cut in corporation tax. But after two years of talking about devolving corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland, there is still no agreement about whether it should happen and what it would cost.

We are clear: whether a corporation tax cut is the best way forward, Northern Ireland's businesses need help - now.

Simply changing the Tory face at the NIO isn't going to get Northern Ireland the help it needs. Northern Ireland's economy needs support, which is why Labour is calling for a real plan for jobs and growth.

Last week, we urged the Government to use the proceeds of the sale of the 4G mobile phone spectrum to kick-start the economy.

Our plans would give £70m to Northern Ireland over the next two years.

If the Executive were to take the same decisions as England, they could use those funds to build 3,000 new affordable homes. The construction industry here needs that help after shedding more than 5,000 jobs in the last two years.

We would give a tax break to every small firm that takes on extra workers, helping to grow the small businesses that make up 90% of Northern Ireland's private sector.

We urge the Government to temporarily reverse their damaging VAT rise to give immediate help to High Streets and struggling families and pensioners and cut VAT on home improvements to 5% to create work for young tradesmen and women.

And, because young people will be the driving force behind further progress here, let's levy a tax on bank bonuses across the UK that could fund 2,000 jobs for young people in Northern Ireland.

When Labour took office in 1997, we committed to putting the issue of securing peace in Northern Ireland at the top of our agenda.

And, with our partners in the Irish government and the courage of political leaders in Northern Ireland, we achieved together something that had eluded generations before. We will never be afraid to say how proud we are of that and how strongly we feel about protecting its legacy. Northern Ireland has changed - and changed for the better - since the bad old days of conflict, violence and isolation.

But we aren't complacent about the work that still needs to be done. That is why the next Labour government will put securing Northern Ireland's economic future at the top of our agenda. Because we know the next stage in Northern Ireland's development will be centred on the economy.

So we want to support the First and deputy First Minister and the Executive to build and develop the economy, reform our banks, invest in infrastructure and promote innovation and new investment for the future.

Together let's build an economy that allows the ambition and potential of Northern Ireland and its people to be realised.

That's our promise of 2012. And that will be the promise of the next Labour government.

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