Around this time of year Deloitte release their State of the State report which reviews the performance of the UK government and the devolved administrations. You can read the full report here, but here I wanted to highlight the reports analysis of recent developments in Northern Ireland.
The report last year was critical of the stop/start nature of policy making within the Executive and the political impasse that had engulfed Stormont over welfare reform. This year however, the report is very praising of the new DUP/Sinn Fein administration and the creation of an official opposition within the Assembly as the report notes;
More cohesive political leadership has created an opportunity for Northern Ireland to accelerate change already underway in its economy, communities and public sector. But at the same time, the effects of Brexit raise unique concerns for the region. That combination of opportunities and risks mean this assembly term could shape Northern Ireland’s prosperity for generations.
Last year’s The State of the State observed how the complex politics of a five-party coalition hampered decision making in the Executive. In contrast, negotiations after this year’s election established a two-party government, plus an independent minister, that quickly created a sense of optimism, energy and confidence in Northern Ireland’s future.
It goes on the praise the creation of the official opposition with the added scrutiny that can bring to the policy-making process;
The formation of a first official opposition is a further sign of maturing government in Northern Ireland that will help build confidence in its governance and stability. And effective oppositions do not just hold administrations to account for actions after they have been taken – they help instil a sense of diligence and forethought in ministers and officials keen to avoid criticism.
The report notes that despite some political problems since 2011, the Northern Ireland economy has performed well overall with job targets being exceeded and a notable increase in foreign direct investment. Yet, the looming uncertainty of Brexit could cause some economic problems;
Whilst Northern Ireland may be on a promising path, the region is uniquely exposed to Brexit. It will become home to the UK’s only land border with an EU member state, and while the Prime Minister has assured leaders in both Northern Ireland and the Republic that it will not revert to a ‘border of the past’, some form of access and customs control seems inevitable.
Northern Ireland is also a significant beneficiary of EU funding that aims to support places at economic or social disadvantage. That has included €1.3 billion since 1995 for the peace process that has funded the creation of shared spaces between communities, victim support and urban regeneration. Three waves of funding have been deemed so successful that the programme is shared as a peace-building exemplar in other regions of the world. Northern Ireland’s fishing, farming and food industries are also significantly exposed to Brexit.
A letter from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to the Prime Minister this summer stressed the vulnerability of the agri-food sector both to the loss of EU funding and to trade barriers with the single market. Clearly, Northern Ireland’s political, business and community leaders need to be fully engaged in Brexit negotiations as they unfold.
The report is not totally hostile to the idea of Brexit as they note on the next page that some businesses might be in Northern Ireland due to a link with the UK, so there might be positives to explore with exiting the European Union.
Overall how do we compare to the other devolved regions?
It will come as no surprise that Northern Ireland has more people employed in the public sector than any other region
And we lead the regions on the levels of public spending per head
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs