Belfast Telegraph

Business Soapbox: Padraig Canavan

The NI Executive's Programme for Government has serious failings

I have had sight of the draft Programme for Government (PfG). For the sake of businesses and the population of the North West, I hope that ministers re-write it at their next meeting on Thursday.

The draft PfG contains serious failings. The worst is that there appears to be no awareness that more must be done to boost our economically weak urban areas.

This is a special problem for the unemployment black spots of Londonderry, Strabane and Limavady. We need two major initiatives: a greatly expanded Magee University campus and improved road and rail links between the North West and Belfast. These priorities were central to the Derry regeneration 'One Plan' - which is not even mentioned in the draft PfG.

The draft PfG underestimates the importance of universities in the modern economy. There is a welcome focus on the need to improve basic skills of schoolleavers and working-age adults. But expanding our university sector is equally important to increase the proportion of graduates in the population - especially in the North West - and ensure that university courses are relevant to the wider economy.

Ministers have yet to decide whether to insert into the PfG a desire to cut corporation tax. But without improving our high level skills, any other economic initiative is unlikely to succeed.

Padraig Canavan is president of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, chair of the University for Derry group and CEO of Singularity