“transferring non-core services to the private sector..”

Northern Ireland’s current Finance Minister, and expected next First Minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson, asked Gordon Brown about the second Varney Review [of competitiveness], to follow his previous review of taxation, during Prime Minister’s Questions today and called for the UK government’s response in time for the upcoming US investment conference. As RTÉ reports that review has been published. NI Secretary of State Shaun Woodward has welcomed the “roadmap to prosperity” and the review itself is available here. PDF file direct link here. RTÉ gives an interesting summary.

In today’s review, Mr Varney indicates that the North’s strengths include a young population, an excellent education system and strong transport links. However, he recommends several reforms to further boost competitiveness.

Recommendations include the transfer of many public sector services to the private sector and greater co-operation with the Irish Government and agencies like the IDA in the development of an all-island economy.

Adds As Mark Devenport says – “There ain’t no Sanity Clause”. Heh.From the Treasury press statement

Sir David’s Review identifies a number of core strengths that make Northern Ireland a good place to do business and attractive to a wide range of investors. These strengths include a young population, an excellent education system, macroeconomic stability, strong transport links with the rest of the UK, Ireland and Europe and ambitious plans for further infrastructure investment. These strengths – alongside a range of investment incentives – have already attracted notable inward investment, and seen some of the strongest growth in output of any UK region.

The Review makes the case that increasing globalisation will bring a number of new challenges to the Northern Ireland economy in the years ahead, as emerging economies compete increasingly in a range of sectors. To succeed in the face of this growing competition, Northern Ireland will need to continue to raise its relatively low productivity and employment rates and reduce the number of low-skilled workers in the economy.

Sir David found that the Northern Ireland Executive has responded well to many of these challenges, and welcomes the priority given to the economy in Northern Ireland’s Programme for Government and the strategies developed to support economic development. The Review concludes that the Executive should now focus on the rapid and effective implementation of those strategies.

To boost the competitiveness of the Northern Ireland economy further, the Review recommends action in a number of areas, including:

deepening and intensifying public sector reform, in particular increasing the role of the private sector in the delivery of core public services and transferring non-core services to the private sector in order to help stimulate its growth;

ambitious labour market and welfare reform, aimed at increasing the employment rate and reducing the number of people on Incapacity Benefit;

more employer-led skills training to help tackle weaknesses in the stock of skills in the labour market, which is a legacy from the past;

ensuring a joined up approach between Invest Northern Ireland, UK Trade & Investment and the Irish Industrial Development Agency (IDA) to market Northern Ireland to the full; and

continuing development of the all-island economy with the Irish Government, supported by the UK Government, including increased trade, movement of labour and capital, tourism, energy markets and financial services as well as many other sectors.