The local version of the Conservative Party, the NI Conservatives (formerly the Conservatives in NI), have come up with an “infographic” that presents Martin and Peter as Laurel and Hardy. The two hapless leaders, the image suggests, have caused the population of Northern Ireland to be £864 per head worse off than people in the rest of the UK.
Part of the reason for this, of course, is local dependence on benefits rather than high paying jobs. Also the stock of jobs tends to be relatively low-skilled and focused on industries in decline – such as retailing and telephone call-centres. Too many big jobs announcements are still about new call centre jobs that tend to employ relatively high numbers at near minimum-wage. And the jobs are often transient – lasting merely the duration of a client contract (from mobile phone companies and the like).
The situation is likely to get worse – regardless of who forms the next UK government. Northern Ireland is still not creating enough high paying jobs, largely as a result of the ‘crowding-out’ effect of the public sector. The local economy is still grossly dependent on relatively highly paying public sector jobs (relative to the private sector) with very low levels of associated productivity.
The local political leadership has done very little do address this problem – apart from tramping around the world seeking ‘inward investment’. Peter and Martin have been photo-op’ed in Brazil, China, New York etc. – accompanied by hordes of OFMDFM/DETI hangers-on.
But the real work needs to be done here. Few of our local companies achieve scale i.e. become the types of major employers we need. We simply don’t have enough indigenous firms (like Wrightbus and Norbrook) that are created by locals and built by locals and succeed in becoming major exporters and significant employers. And a key reason for this is that too much of our talent leaves and never comes back. Another reason is that we have next to no political stability – and the fact that our political parties and ‘leaders’ have negligible business or commercial experience.
It’s unlikely, of course, that the Conservative Party will make much progress here in the upcoming elections. Turnout will be poor and those who vote will vote, as usual, for the usual suspects. Also the Conservative Party nationally doesn’t really convince anyone of its business-friendliness when it comes out with policy announcements like yesterday’s from Eric Pickles, that it planned to force employers (private and public) to give employees three additional days off to do ‘volunteering’. Such piffle policies make it look no better than Peter and Martin.
But drawing attention to the vacuousness of our political leadership is no bad thing.