At last our leaders are starting to take a realistic line to cope with cuts

Credit where credit’s due, while commending Bystander’s vigilance. Simon Hamilton cuts a competent figure as minister of finance, blowing the trumpet for the financial aspects of the Stormont House Agreement. This is what a finance minister is for, rather than sniping at colleagues. Meanwhile  the Agreement has attracted the rare attention of the Economist which has a global reach and a strong private sector, fiscally conservative leaning  …

THE good news about Northern Ireland is that it now has normal problems…

The bad news about Northern Ireland is that these problems are simply enormous.

Yet the people of Ulster suffered surprisingly little. Unemployment peaked at around 8%—about half the highest rate seen in Ireland…

Northern Ireland runs a mammoth budget deficit estimated at 33% of GVA. The debate that gripped Scotland last year, over whether the country would be better off independent, is unimaginable there.

Ulster’s citizens are simply not yet used to mature debates over spending, argues Professor Neil Gibson of Ulster University. Newspapers are filled with disputes over flags, marches and history. The region lacks economic think-tanks—unsurprisingly, since economic policy has consisted of maximising the block grant from London and doling it out.

But this is at last beginning to change…  Reducing Northern Ireland’s dependence on the state is a bigger challenge, admits Mr Hamilton. But the province has some advantages. Ulster’s universities churn out brainy graduates. Labour costs are low…  Multinational services companies such as Baker McKenzie, a law firm, have arrived. Fujitsu, an IT company, is expanding its operation in Derry (Londonderry, unionists call it). Fifty new foreign direct investment projects were secured in 2014.

If it can rise to its short-run challenges, the case for handing more of the levers of economic policy to Stormont is strong (Really? Peter for one, doesn’t agree.)

Prof Gibson likens Ulster to a moody teenager learning to take responsibility for the first time. He hopes that one day an election will be determined by economic policy. When that happens, Ulster will have grown up..( Hear, hear to that! Maybe the pigs won’t fly then?)

Here for further information is the quarterly report from the research body supported by the Executive, headed by Prof Gibson.


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  • notimetoshine

    We will shamble along as usual, economic policy will never dominate elections or our political consciousness, the people of NI are too engrossed with their own cultural ideologies and conflicts. A shame but that’s what they want it seems.

  • Zeno

    “Yet the people of Ulster suffered surprisingly little. Unemployment peaked at around 8%—about half the highest rate seen in Ireland…”

    Using unemployment rates in isolation to say NI suffered very little is a bit flakey.

  • Gary

    Bear in mind that the unemployed figure is totally made up. JSA claimants are put on training schemes and therefore are not counted in the figures.

  • Ernekid

    It seems that the Economist doesn’t know the difference between Northern Ireland and Ulster.

  • Surveyor

    I’m not sure a man enshrouded in the comfort of academia is the best person to criticise the North’s reliance on the block grant.

  • Ian James Parsley

    That’s right. What would a Professor know, eh?!

    Just ignore him and stick to the magicians on the Hill. They know best!

  • Ian James Parsley

    I wouldn’t worry about it. It doesn’t know the difference between “Britain” and “the UK” either.

  • Ian James Parsley

    It’s not “totally made up”.

    But I take your point that the “economic inactivity” figure should be at least as prominent in government releases and newspaper articles.

  • Surveyor

    Who pays the Professor’s salary Ian? That’s right the block grant, he shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds him.

  • salmonofdata

    I can’t understand that argument at all. Should the Professor say “Well, since I work for a university which is partly funded by the state, I must always be in favour of state spending because it may be in my narrow economic self-interest”. That would be somewhat of a dereliction of his duties as an academic, no?

  • Surveyor

    No I’m saying I’m sick and tired of been lectured to by academics.

  • Ernekid

    I’m not sure if you’ve been to university or not but Lecturing is a key part of an academics job description

  • Surveyor

    Well they should save it for Universities.

  • D99

    The people of NI have always had normal problems. Local politicians just generally choose to focus on abnormal ones that keep them in power. And the media allow them to set the agenda.
    Unemployment is much higher that 8% – those on government schemes are not economically inactive, they’re unemployed, i.e. available and looking for work – that’s part of their Job Seekers Agreement and supposedly the point of the schemes. But they’re not counted.
    To be fair, professors probably have ‘suffered surprisingly little’ from the cuts.
    We don’t need patronising analogies – comparing Ulster (does the Professor in his wisdom think that’s interchangeable with Northern Ireland?) with a moody teenager; and we certainly don’t need more right wing economic think tanks advocating corporation tax cuts, public sector redundancies and the benefits of low paid labour costs.
    Other than that, great article. Except the bit about Simon Hamilton, who’s still blowing the same old tune on his worn out trumpet, albeit in a less noisy way than his predecessor.

  • Deke Thornton

    I know dozens of people who do not work (in their 40’s) and none are on JSA. All on IB plus DLA plus housing benefits. If you google ‘economic inactivity in Northern Ireland’ you’ll see that the figure dwarfs unemployment levels by a huge multiple. JSA is a tiny fraction of the benefits bill, yet the local media avoid mentioning this in case they spook the local parties who all acquiesced with this fraud. And yes, the public sector is bloated with people who could not hold down a real job. The wind of change is coming to our little Soviet province.

  • nigel mckinney

    Ah – economics – a subject about which I know very little , and economists seemingly even less! I cant find a link but I recall an interview with Prof Gibson when he recounted that his hero was Margaret Thatcher – told me all I needed to know.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “Ulster to a moody teenager learning to take responsibility for the first time” I wouldn’t underestimate this teenager with his experience and travels through life he may just know a little bit more about money and it’s distribution than you think !

  • puffen

    Simon Hamilton one to watch, and that doll from Fermanagh better watch out.

  • barnshee

    In my direct experience very little

  • Kevin Breslin

    Arlene Foster?