Belfast Telegraph

Amber Rudd: Northern Ireland businesses and workers have every right to feel optimistic about future

 

Amber Rudd
Amber Rudd

By Amber Rudd

Belfast has been many things in its history - a centre of learning, a powerhouse of linen production and home to one of the world's largest shipyards.

Recently it has also been home to Superman, Vikings and Jon Snow and the armies of Westeros.

Warehouses, which once stored cotton spun in Northern Ireland's factories, now house entrepreneurs, tech start-ups and film sets.

Northern Ireland is increasingly recognised around the world for its creative industries - and people and businesses across the nation are reaping the rewards with 20,000 people now employed by arts and entertainment industries. Local employment is at a record high with 92,000 more people in a job since 2010, and unemployment is just 3.1% - below the UK average of 3.9%.

Even fewer women are out of work in Northern Ireland, just 2.7%, with women making up well over half of new workers in that time.

Yesterday I met some of the organisations in Belfast helping to drive that employment boom. In particular with Youth Action Northern Ireland, who work with 15,000 young people every year, helping them to build future careers in areas like performing arts, business and technology.

As the Work and Pensions Secretary I'm responsible for overseeing the welfare reforms that are helping more people get into work, with Universal Credit offering every jobseeker a personal work coach and the tailored support they need to overcome whatever barriers they face.

Following the Fresh Start Agreement, Universal Credit was introduced here as well in the last few years.

On my visit I met with officials from the Department for Communities working to make sure people here experience a smooth transition to the new system, benefiting from its flexibility and simplicity.

It's right that issues like welfare reform, which have such a big impact on the people of Northern Ireland, are decided on by their representatives here in Stormont.

So like the rest of the Government, I also urge the political parties in Northern Ireland to work quickly to restore devolved government at Stormont. The people of Northern Ireland need to have confidence that decisions are being made by local politicians who represent them.

Businesses certainly have confidence in Northern Ireland workers.

In the last four years alone over 57,000 more people have been employed by private companies here. As we've created a more favourable business environment across the UK, easing regulation and lowering corporation tax, we've seen private enterprise flourish. There are 73,000 businesses based in Northern Ireland, almost 5,000 more than there were in 2010.

Yesterday I also met some of the 900 entrepreneurs creating new businesses here in Belfast with the help of Catalyst - a charity offering mentoring support and office space to new start-ups.

Based at Belfast's historic docks near the Game of Thrones studios, it is a prime example of how Northern Ireland's former industrial centre is becoming a new economic powerhouse for arts and technology.

I'm also encouraged by public signs from Harland & Wolff's administrators looking for a new buyer for the company.

As the Northern Ireland Secretary has said, while it's a commercial process, the Government will do all it can to support a successful bid.

Jobseekers in Northern Ireland should be optimistic about their future.

Wages are rising faster than the UK average and workers here earn an average of £90 a week more than they did five years ago. Employment is booming.

Game of Thrones has ended, and like many fans I was sad to say goodbye to Westeros.

But with the world's most popular TV programme creating a legacy for its arts and entertainment industry, with its new wave of entrepreneurs and with near full-employment, I'm confident that optimism is well founded.

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