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Politicians struggling to make Executive decision

When the Executive finally published its Programme for Government (PfG), creating jobs and turning around the economy were supposedly its top priorities.

Yet, more than a year into the new Assembly, unemployment figures and the number of benefits claimants are rising, the manufacturing sector is shrinking and exports are down.

We shouldn't be surprised. Although the constitutional issue is now settled, politics at Stormont still revolves around past debates and divisions and the five Executive parties haven't even begun to develop a credible strategy to create jobs, or encourage growth.

The columnist Newton Emerson recently identified the problem. The parties in the Executive are each 'broad churches', whose members agree on constitutional issues, but struggle to write coherent policies on day-to-day issues, like the economy.

About the only policy all five parties agree on is that the block grant should be as large as possible - even if that means taxpayers have less money to spend and companies have less money to invest in creating jobs. It's pure populism and it stifles serious debate about issues that matter.

The current system makes for bad government, bad economics and it isn't democratic. When a minister does a glaringly bad job, they prove impossible to get rid of, so long as they are still backed by their party.

The idea of an official Opposition has now gained traction with all parties, with the exception of Sinn Fein. Making government genuinely accountable, providing an alternative to current parties and stimulating debate are all critical aspects of a healthy political system.

That's why the Executive, while it pays lip-service to enterprise and rebalancing, shows little understanding of what business needs or how to create jobs.

The NI Conservatives will offer voters a different approach.

After 30 years of conflict, our private sector is weak and it needs to be given a kick-start to stimulate serious growth. The key could be a cut in corporation tax.

Yet the finance minister is a confirmed sceptic, who fails to understand that less money taken from companies in tax means more money to spend on creating jobs, developing new products and creating prosperity for all of us.

That's before we consider the increase in inward investment which is projected to follow any cut.

Each of the other UK regions has introduced enterprise zones, which have revitalised struggling areas, such as Liverpool.

The Treasury has provided cash to tailor benefits, like research and development grants, rates holidays, business mentoring, better IT infrastructure and streamlined planning regulations, but the Executive has chosen not to use it.

We could spend public money more efficiently and have a debate on privatisation of certain assets, using the funds raised to drive the economy forward and create jobs.

Deregulation and privatisation should be considered to make state-run enterprises more efficient.

There are a range of other tasks which the Executive has neglected, or ignored: skilling up our students in the right areas; stripping down our planning process to stop impeding investment; persuading companies to start exporting by considering rates relief for big exporters and new-start manufacturers; helping the private sector by promoting a jobs fund.

We have to compete for business and implement business-friendly policies to flourish. The Executive must show a little imagination, stop finding excuses not to act and get over its fixation with keeping money in the public sector.

We should get our economy back to work by concentrating on a Programme for Government to deliver sustainable jobs and growth.