Belfast Telegraph

Bosses tell Executive: Now put focus on jobs

By Margaret Canning

Business organisations today urged the Northern Ireland Executive to focus on kickstarting the economy by maximising spending on projects that will create jobs.

As the dust settled on an agreement on devolution of policing and justice after protracted negotiations, business bosses said decisive action, rather than just words, were now needed on the economy.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said jobs must be the Executive’s top priority, particularly in construction.

“Bringing forward infrastructure projects faster such as roads and schools would strengthen employment in this important sector and boost opportunities in associated sectors. In addition, we need to increase incentives for more companies to recruit young unemployed and graduates through new skills training initiatives that provide funding support for smaller companies.”

She also called for fast implementation of the recommendations contained in the Independent Review on Economic Policy (IREP). “We need to see meaningful action on these within months, not years,” she said.

As latest figures show an unemployment rate of 6.8%, with the claimant count going up by 500 in December to 54,500, Ms McGregor added: “Failure to tackle unemployment in a coherent manner will undermine any hope the Executive and Assembly have in restoring public confidence.”

CBI Northern Ireland director, Nigel Smyth agreed that job creation, particularly among young people, remains an urgent matter. “The Executive must ensure its policies and resources, including the proposed public expenditure plans, focus on these objectives.

“The CBI believes there is scope to amend the current spending plans to support economic recovery, maximise capital investment and introduce more radical reform to the design and delivery of public services in the expectation of real cuts in public expenditure in 2011 and beyond,” he said.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said that rebalancing of the public/private sector divide should be prioritised, but believes |this will by no means be easy for |the Executive.

“The problem is the Executive has minimal policy levers to influence the private sector. Efforts should focus on what the Executive can actually influence and change.

“Therefore it should look at introducing incentives and disincentives which engender behaviour conducive to economic development.

“There needs to be a rethink on where Northern Ireland’s public expenditure goes. The economy is the number one priority and resources therefore need to be channelled to where they will have the biggest economic impact — capital investment.”

He suggests the Executive focus on a few headline targets, such as committing a greater proportion of its public expenditure budget, relative to other UK regions, to capital investment over the next 10-20 years.

Belfast Telegraph