NI ministers set 25,000 jobs target


Northern Ireland’s political leaders have set themselves the target of creating 25,000 new jobs in their Programme for Government unveiled today.

The blueprint was finalised in ministerial talks that continued past midnight at Stormont Castle and sets out a plan for the next four years.

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness detailed the programme’s list of more than 70 commitments at a special sitting of the Assembly.

The document, published alongside an economic strategy and an investment strategy, confirms agreement on major cost-saving reforms and reveals how ministers hope to boost business and protect public services, despite billions in cuts by Westminster.

The package includes commitments to:

- Create 25,000 new jobs and secure £300 million in foreign direct investment.

- A £50 million loan fund will help on the availability of cash to small and medium sized businesses who have complained of being unable to secure support from banks.

- Deliver 8,000 social and affordable homes.

- Replace the network of education and library boards with a single streamlined education and skills authority (ESA) to secure savings.

- Cut the size of local government, bringing the number of district councils down from 26 to 11.

- Support 200 new projects through the Creative Industries Innovation Fund.

- Eliminate air passenger duty on direct long haul flights, after Belfast’s only US route was threatened by lower taxes in Dublin.

- Politicians reaffirmed their decision to freeze university fees and to avoid introducing water charges.

The programme also includes projects aimed at culture and tourism, with a pledge to attract a major golf tournament, host the World Police and Fire Games in 2013, as well as developing the site of the former Maze prison support the Derry City of Culture 2013 and develop events to remember the story of the Titanic.

Mr Robinson said the administration was making “76 commitments to the people of Northern Ireland”.

He said the programme for government was a statement of intent that ministers must now deliver on.

“It is a statement that we in Northern Ireland are prepared to take responsibility for our future, it is a statement that we are prepared to modernise and reform, and most importantly it is a statement that Northern Ireland is moving forward as one community,” he said.

“Through this Programme for Government we will seek to rebuild and rebalance our economy and we will seek to address the legacy of division that lingers from the past.”

He said Belfast had recently hosted the MTV awards and Northern Ireland had attracted investment from major companies such as the New York Stock Exchange, Citi, Allstate, Coca Cola, plus a growth in the film and TV industry.

But Mr Robinson said the global economic climate made it difficult to secure such advances and government had to work hard to protect citizens from the worst impacts of the downturn.

He added: “It is the delivery on the ground, not the words in the document on which we will all ultimately be judged.”

Mr Robinson announced the efforts to boost the economy, and said: “But it is important to remember that the economy is a mechanism for improving people’s lives - it is not an end in itself.”