Job creation scheme 'achievable'
Ambitious plans to create 25,000 jobs under a four-year Programme for Government for Northern Ireland is achievable, Stormont leaders said.
The blueprint was finalised in ministerial talks at Stormont Castle and is accompanied by an economic strategy and an investment strategy.
First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness detailed the programme's 76 commitments at a special sitting of the Assembly.
They confirmed agreement on major cost-saving reforms and revealed how they plan to boost business and protect public services, despite billions in cuts by Westminster.
The package also includes pledges to secure £300 million in foreign direct investment, and press for the devolution of corporation tax; invest in a £50 million loan fund to help on the availability of cash to small and medium sized businesses; and deliver 8,000 social and affordable homes, and double-glaze all Housing Executive houses to cut fuel bills.
It pledged to replace the network of education and library boards with a single Education and Skills Authority to secure savings, following years of delay on the reform; cut the size of local government from 26 councils to 11, despite calls from the SDLP and Ulster Unionists for 15; and support 200 new projects through the Creative Industries Innovation Fund, plus push ahead with redeveloping major sports grounds for GAA, football and rugby.
It also unveiled plans to eliminate Air Passenger Duty on direct long haul flights, after Belfast's only US route was threatened by lower taxes in Dublin; freeze university fees and avoid introducing water charges; and encourage greater levels of shared education between Protestant and Catholic pupils. A further pledge ensures one year of pre-school education will be available to every family.
The programme also includes projects aimed at culture and tourism, with a pledge to attract a major golf tournament, host the World Police and Fire Games in 2013, to support the Derry/Londonderry City of Culture in 2013 and develop events to remember the story of the Titanic.
But Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson were challenged on whether the promises could be delivered. Ulster Unionist deputy leader John McCallister said little over half of the key targets were reached in the last programme for government.
But the First Minister argued the achievement rate was closer to two thirds, and claimed some of the pledges that were not met had been set prior to the global recession. Mr Robinson added: "If we hadn't set in our last programme for government the economy as its main plank, then clearly we would have been less well prepared to deal with what was to come down the road at us."