“But the policies that small business have actually called for…”

Back to economics again, and in particular to the Irish Times economics editor, Marc Coleman, who’s been looking [subs req] at some of Sinn Féin’s stated policy objectives – beyond harmonising corporation tax at 17.5% – to what the party has in mind to support the small business sector. In the Republic he says, “According to the Small Business Forum, some 250,000 small businesses in the Republic support almost 800,000 jobs”… and he argues that what small businesses have actually called for are not on the SF agenda.From the Irish Times [subs req]

Sinn Féin is careful to recognise the crucial role of small businesses in creating employment, especially in rural isolated areas. According to the Small Business Forum, some 250,000 small businesses in the Republic support almost 800,000 jobs.

Sinn Féin is not short of proposals to support the sector. Whether the sector will welcome the type of support the party proposes is another matter. In a novel idea Sinn Féin proposes the establishment of a “co-ordinated and comprehensive social economy strategy” on an all-Ireland and state-funded basis.

Under it, a social economy development agency, state-funded of course, would develop, guide and advise small community-owned enterprise units or small businesses trying to achieve altruistic objectives.

And in a reference that would warm the heart of any old-style socialist, Sinn Féin calls for the “further development of the Irish worker co-operatives” to make the co-operative sector a cornerstone of Irish economic and enterprise policy.

But the policies that small business have actually called for – curbing local authority expenditure and achieving more competition in the public sector – seem far from Sinn Féin’s agenda. The party’s defence of the state’s role in government brings us to the core problem of the North’s economy and, perhaps, the irony of ironies regarding Sinn Féin’s entire economic strategy. Whereas the Southern economy is 70 per cent private sector and 30 per cent public sector, the economy of the North is the exact opposite.

A vast public sector, together with a generous disability benefit regime, are the two things that keep the North’s unemployment rate from rising to crisis levels. Underpinning that vast public sector and benefit regime is an almost complete financial dependency on London, something that ought to be anathema to Sinn Féin. If Ireland were to be reunited, the North’s public sector would have to shrink significantly to avoid it becoming a crippling burden.

As well as developing indigenous industry, reducing that dependency would also require a policy of aggressively attracting foreign direct investment from multinationals, at least at the initial stages. Not just small, but also medium-sized and large indigenous enterprises would need encouragement.

It would also require a rationalisation of the North’s public services. Sinn Féin’s policy is to “defend public services”, not to mention expanding the apparatus of the state by the creation of new state and semi-state bodies.

The willingness of UK taxpayers to fund statist largesse in the North is waning. A majority in the South probably still supports reunification. And, as even some unionists can accept, a closer economic integration of the 32 counties – aside from the issue of political unification – could on its own be to everybody’s benefit. But would Sinn Féin’s statist policies help or hinder those benefits?