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Stormont in crisis: Political delays are making us look stupid

Just last Sunday a leading venture capitalist told Wendy Austin of the BBC that Northern Ireland was now looking foolish internationally.

He didn't say weird or narrow-minded, just stupid.

People could see we were not "able to deal with an issue which every other Western economy is able to deal with - the issues of cost cutting and reshaping their economies... it doesn't help the perception of us being a credible place from which to do business", said Hal Wilson of Edinburgh-based Pentech Ventures. We still looked stupid yesterday as we gathered to discuss our growing financial black hole as if it had just appeared out of nowhere. In fact, it's been growing for years as the Executive pushes hard decisions down the pipe and the big parties trade concessions with each other to get anything done.

Last week the US State Department shelved an American investment conference. That was because we were in too much of a mess financially to be able to guarantee a reduction in corporation tax. That is the big idea theoretically shared by all the Executive parties. It is the only commonly held idea for rebuilding the economy, but we can't afford it unless we balance our books.

Some commentators and politicians argue that deadlines keep getting extended here, so they are a bit of a joke. The problem is that this delay is on our dime. The meter is running and, as in a taxi, indecision comes with a bill attached. It costs around £2m a week and that will rise the longer this dithering continues. The next big jump will come at the end of July when allocated funds run out. Stringing things out in the hope of something turning up is both an expensive option and a stupid one. In gambling parlance, that game is too rich for our blood.

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