Belfast Telegraph

Increasing productivity central to minister's new industrial strategy for Northern Ireland

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland must seek a "truly transformed economy", Simon Hamilton said as he launched a consultation into his industrial strategy yesterday.

The Economy Minister's plan, called Economy 2030, was praised by experts for recognising one of the country's biggest challenges - low productivity.

The draft paper identifies six sectors as having the potential for a world-class performance, including life and health sciences, agri-food, construction and materials handling and digital and creative technologies.

It also refers to a "changing economic landscape" caused by the UK's decision to leave the European Union.

Mr Hamilton said: "Northern Ireland has emerged from the deepest downturn in living memory, and we have begun the process of rebalancing our economy.

"Unemployment has fallen, economic inactivity is down, exports are growing, tourism visitor numbers and spending are on the increase and innovation is rising. But we should not simply settle for better than it was.

"It is a truly transformed economy that we must now set our sights upon."

The strategy has five pillars - encouraging innovation, enhancing education, driving sustainable growth, succeeding in global markets and building the best infrastructure.

It also urges companies to be ambitious and to respond to the decision to lower corporation tax by investing money to improve productivity.

The minister said: "We will offer enhanced investment and support to those market opportunities that are most likely to lead to strong and sustained economic growth.

"Every sector is vital to our economy and will be assisted, but the support will be strongest for those sectors and sub-sectors where we are already world-class and also where we can become world-class.

"And of utmost importance, we will strive at all times to ensure that everyone, everywhere in Northern Ireland feels the benefits of an improving economy with more jobs and rising incomes."

Ulster University economist Esmond Birnie said the document recognised the achievements of the economy since the early 2010s, but also pointed to where challenges remained.

"That challenge is a lack of competitiveness as indicated, amongst other things, by a low and declining comparative level of productivity," the economist explained.

Dr Birnie also said the strategy was correct to take a selective approach. "A small region cannot be a world leader in everything, so efforts will be concentrated in sectoral terms," he added.

The consultation period runs until April 25.

Belfast Telegraph