Belfast Telegraph

How UK's industrial strategy can help drive renaissance in sector

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By Simon Hamilton

The Government published its long-awaited UK industrial strategy. It is a strategy which is rightly ambitious for the UK as a whole but one which contains significant opportunities for Northern Ireland to build on our rich industrial heritage and re-establish our region as a manufacturing hub that punches well above its weight.

Setting out a long-term vision for the national economy is crucially important, especially at a time whenever we face a range of challenges as well as seizing the significant opportunities that exist globally.

It was something that we too tried to achieve when, in one of my last acts before the collapse of the last Executive, we published a draft industrial strategy for Northern Ireland.

The aim of our draft strategy was to "create a globally competitive economy that works for everyone".

Like the Government's UK-wide strategy, our ambition was to pave the path towards a regional economy that is, yes, bigger, but also more productive, more high tech and more knowledge-based.

We do that by focusing much of our energy on those sectors of our economy, like advanced manufacturing and engineering, materials handling and life and health sciences where we are already world-leading, and on those sectors where we possess the potential to be global leaders like cyber security - something recognised in the UK strategy.

We can also achieve that aim by building sectors and industries that are synced with where our universities have international capability in terms of research and by concentrating much more on trade, especially with fast growing markets around the world.

There is much in the UK industrial strategy which can help Northern Ireland to become a globally competitive small economy.

As the strategy is implemented, it is crucial that HM Government works with our universities and colleges, our business sectors and a restored Executive to maximise our share of proposed initiatives like the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the National Retraining Scheme and the National Productivity Investment Fund.

Sometimes the focus of strategies such as these is almost entirely on the economic growth element.

The DUP is a party that puts people first and we believe it is equally important that people personally feel the benefit of a growing economy.

Whilst the government's draft Industrial Strategy points out that the UK's unemployment rate is now at it lowest in 40 years and the nation's economy has enjoyed 19 continuous quarters of growth, it is equally true to say that not everyone in every part of the UK has felt that growth has positively impacted on their lives.

That's why the NI Industrial Strategy focuses on spreading prosperity across the province and addressing deep seated weaknesses like economic inactivity.

We warmly welcome the acknowledgement in the draft UK strategy of the emphasis in our own strategy on inclusive growth. It is something that is not as visible in the Government's strategy and they could learn from Northern Ireland because sharing the benefits of growth across our nation is imperative. Improving productivity, for example, isn't solely important because it grows the economy.

It also determines whether we are better off.

The DUP wants to see a growing economy and we want to see more people in work, their earnings going up and their living standards rising as well.

The Northern Ireland Industrial Strategy is still in draft format and there is much that the DUP would wish to add to it if given the opportunity. Things like examining the potential of regional development banks like those that exist in places like Germany to generate greater growth, establishing our own societal and environmental missions that can spur innovation, how we could foster more of an emphasis on technical education and how social policies like increased access to childcare can help stimulate our economy.

Regrettably, no Economy Minister is presently in place to not only implement our own strategy but also to better align it to the UK-wide one.

The DUP wants to see the Executive up and running again immediately so that so we can finalise our own Industrial Strategy, start to implement it, align it with the UK strategy and begin to ignite a new industrial renaissance in Northern Ireland.

  • Simon Hamilton is a DUP MLA and former Economy Minister

Belfast Telegraph

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