Belfast Telegraph

Leader of Britain's biggest union unveils new plan to boost our living standards

By Liam Clarke

Britain's most powerful union boss will tomorrow throw his weight behind a major investment programme in Northern Ireland.

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein will be present when the Unite document is launched by Len McCluskey at Stormont.

The DUP will be represented by Finance Minister Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein is billed to send Martin McGuinness.

Mr McCluskey is the general secretary of Unite, which is the biggest union in Britain and Ireland. He backed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and Unite bankrolls the party, but he has since criticised Mr Corbyn on a number of issues.

Mr McCluskey will launch the 20-page document - Growing The Economy And Living Standards - which analyses Northern Ireland's economic position near the bottom of the league.

His proposals include:

• A cross-border investment programme to upgrade our electricity infrastructure and develop renewable power. Since 2010, the supply network on both sides of the border has been operated by ESB, an Irish State company.

• A new Housing Executive to retrofit our ageing housing stock to improve energy use and comfort. This is to be financed partly by bonds issued by the housing body.

• Targeted State assistance for "companies of excellence" that provide good jobs and economic benefits.

• Guaranteeing that public services will not be privatised if they improve productivity.

• All public sector employers and contractors to pay the living wage (currently £7.85 an hour) to employees.

• Seeking money from London to fund growth through an infrastructure bank with legacy contributions to reflect the battering our economy took from the Troubles.

• Fully utilise the Stormont Executive's borrowing powers.

• Establish an Institute of Enterprise, an Enterprise Skills Academy and a Centre for Partnership-based Innovation, which would involve unions as well as employers.

• Give Translink external borrowing powers to improve the rail network.

The document comes in the midst of negotiations during which the First and Deputy First Ministers are actively looking for things to ask London to fund. The criteria are that they cannot involve increased allowances for welfare, which have already been refused, and that they are items which set Northern Ireland apart.

Many of these items, like the infrastructure bank and improving our energy costs, which are amongst the highest in Europe, would fit the bill. High energy costs are a major problem for business as well as consumers.

A Unite spokesman said "You would like to think that, given the precarious situation the economy is in, the ministers would take up some of these ideas.

"This is not a solution to Northern Ireland's problems. What Unite is trying to do is open a dialogue because our productivity is going down, employment is only rising slightly and we have a low-wage economy with low productivity."

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