David Blackburn

Ancient hatreds mask Stormont’s current challenge

Ignore the antediluvian hatreds for a moment. As Anne Dawson says, the recent violence in East Belfast was largely inspired by current economic distress. Northern Ireland’s economy is a serious cause for concern. Central expenditure per head is 25 per cent higher in Ulster than the UK norm and 70 per cent of Northern Ireland’s economy lies in the public sector according to parliamentary one estimate. Although the province has much to commend itself to business – competitive operating costs and excellent transport links serviced by substantial capital investment – private enterprise remains depressed. A report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in March found that growth was negligible and that unemployment is running at 6.6 percent (compared to the UK March average of 4.5 per cent). And, naturally, economic hardship breeds serious crime. Robbery increased by more than 2 per cent last year, despite an otherwise successful investment campaign in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).  

Much of David Cameron’s speech to Stormont earlier this month was devoted to reviving Ulster’s economy. Stormont already controls many of the levers to encourage investment, but politicians from both communities look at the Republic of Ireland’s 12.5 per cent rate of corporation tax and Ulster’s 26 per cent rate (set by Westminster) and conclude that they can’t compete. Research by the Economic Advisory Group reckons that 58,000 new jobs would be created by 2030 if the rate was cut to Dublin’s level; a consequence of which would be to raise the value of export sales and the general standard of living. At the behest of Stormont, a consultation is underway to see if responsibility for setting corporation tax might be transferred. Cameron and Owen Paterson have promised to consider the conclusions of the consultation; but the Treasury is reluctant to relinquish this vital fiscal control, not least because the resurgent Alex Salmond also his eye on claiming

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