Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland needs to get on with welfare, planning, employment law and public sector reform

By Mark Brotherston

In Northern Ireland, we’re so used to politicians who duck difficult decisions and avoid tackling problems that the Secretary of State’s speech about driving politics forward last week stuck out like a sore thumb.

Theresa Villiers took on issues, like dealing with the past and reforming politics by introducing an opposition, refreshingly directly.

She also made a number of comments about the economy, which highlight how Stormont has refused to take responsibility for the most basic functions of government.

At Westminster, ministers continue to work on a deal to devolve powers to cut Corporation Tax to the Assembly. There has been amazing progress toward achieving that goal, but the Secretary of State points out that the Executive has effectively neglected other areas, where it could have been making Northern Ireland more competitive, when it comes to attracting jobs.

For instance, despite pledges to reform planning law, the system remains complicated and bureaucratic, stopping businesses from expanding and putting off prospective investors.

While there are many excellent people working in the public sector, areas of our civil service remain bloated, inefficient and a ‘can’t do’ attitude is allowed to fester.

Critically Northern Ireland’s employment law remains out of step with the rest of the United Kingdom and despite a consultation aimed at reforming the system, progress seems to have ground to a halt.

In all these areas urgent action is needed.

The Executive’s failure to change our byzantine planning law is hampering the creation of enterprise zones, which would attract jobs and act as hubs for growth. The slow pace of reform in the public sector is holding up progress in other parts of society.  The logjam over employment law is keeping people on the dole queue.

In the NI Conservatives we keep saying, we need a ‘can do’ rather than a ‘can’t do’ attitude in Northern Ireland. We need to get on with welfare reform, planning reform, employment law reform and reform of the public sector, rather than playing at politics. That’s what the Conservative-led government is doing in Westminster and it’s what our colleague Theresa Villiers is calling for here.


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