Expanded private sector and corporate tax reform key to economic revival
Northern Ireland has struggled since 1998 to escape the legacy of 30 years of strife
There are few more naturally beautiful locations in the world than the Glens of Antrim, particularly along the coast where the cold, tidal waters of the Irish Sea meet land.
These cerulean waters are home to the only Atlantic salmon producer in the Irish Sea, the Northern Salmon Company.
During their first business mission to China last week, the North’s First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, announced the Co Antrim company had secured big orders in the region for its Glenarm Organic Salmon range.
According to the Northern Salmon Company, the latest business win highlights “what sets our salmon apart from its competitors” (the environment in which it is produced, in seawater farms off the coast of Northern Ireland).
But what the latest win also demonstrates, according to the North’s political leaders, is “how small local businesses can go from strength to strength in competitive environments”.
Glenarm Organic Salmon ticks a lot of boxes as a poster product for Northern Ireland. Its parent company is a major exporter – an estimated 75 per cent of its organic produce is sold outside of the North and regularly finds its way on to the plates of top chefs from the US to the United Arab Emirates.
Growing exports from the North to markets such as China is a key part of the Northern Ireland Executive’s strategy to transform the economy into one that is “vibrant, private sector-led and outward looking”.
In its programme for government, which runs until 2015, the Executive outlines how it wants to build a larger and more export-driven private sector. It also wants to attract big investors to locate and create high-quality jobs in the North in a bid to reduce Northern Ireland’s overdependence on the public sector. Nearly one in three people work in the public sector in the North.
Ambitious wish list
The Executive has also pledged to support the promotion of more than 25,000 new jobs and to “press for the devolution of corporation tax”.
It is an ambitious wish list which projects the image of a new grown-up approach to government in the North, one that is focused on the economy instead of sectarian politics.
But while the peace process has dramatically reconstructed every aspect of daily life, the reality is the economy has struggled since 1998 to escape the legacy of 30 years of violence. Northern Ireland is now imprisoned in an economic downturn. Household debt and personal insolvencies have hit a record high this year while house prices have plummeted from their peak by 53 per cent.
In the last five years about 55,000 jobs have been axed and in almost the same period the number of people claiming jobless benefits has increased by 40,000. Latest labour market statistics show that in the three months to September the number of people out of work jumped to 67,000.