Economy Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has today set out his ambition for transforming Northern Ireland into a globally competitive economy.
In his first major speech as Minister, Mr Hamilton set out his vision to an audience of over 100 businesses at a Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry event at Allstate in Belfast.
Commenting, Minister Hamilton said: “I am, and always have been, immensely proud of Northern Ireland. Even when many inside Northern Ireland, and some from outside, tried to tell us that we didn’t have much to be proud of.
“Like many of us who lived through all or part of the Troubles, I can recall thinking that, as much as we made the most of an awful situation, we could do so much better. Thankfully, things have improved a lot. But we can be better still.
“I don’t just want us to be better. I want us to be one of the best.
“We have come a long way since the days when unemployment stood at 15%.
“Or when Northern Ireland was the last place someone would have thought to go to on holiday.
“But we shouldn’t simply settle for better than it was.
“Just as we were once one of the world’s economic powerhouses, so we can be again.
“It won’t be because of our shipyards or our linen mills or our ropeworks. But it can because of our ICT, advanced engineering and agri-food businesses”.
The Minister continued: “My number one aim as Minister for the Economy is to transform Northern Ireland into a globally competitive economy. I want us to develop an economy that we are proud of and that is the envy of others.
“I want us to become a breakout nation. A truly emerging economy on the world stage. The very model of a modern regional economy.
“That will require a continuation and indeed an acceleration of the economic reforms the Executive have been pursuing. Our vision for Northern Ireland is of a rebalanced economy. Ending our over reliance on the public sector for employment and growth. It was ambitious. But our plan is working.”
The Minister added: “During the Euros, the Green and White Army reminded us frequently that when it comes to football, we’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland. Economically, we aren’t Germany or the United States or Japan.
“But why shouldn’t we seek to imitate smaller states like Singapore or Sweden or Finland. States who habitually inhabit spots in the top ten of international rankings as innovative, competitive economies and good places to do business.
“They are nations that aren’t without their challenges either but in many respects they are, structurally, everything we should aspire to have in our economy. Small but open, innovate, dynamic, export driven economies.
“Some will, no doubt, question our ability to rival the world’s most competitive and innovative economies, but if there’s one thing that the last few weeks have taught us, it is surely that you should never underestimate Northern Ireland.
“Northern Ireland’s competitiveness is improving but in many respects the important question is are we forging ahead of, keeping pace with or falling behind our global competitors. This isn’t a race against ourselves we’re engaged in. It’s a contest with the whole of the world.
“So I have tasked officials with examining how we can develop a high level overview of Northern Ireland’s competitiveness against a tailored group of small, advanced economies like Singapore, New Zealand, Finland, Ireland and Estonia as part of our ongoing work on refreshing the Economic Strategy. We can judge success on being better than we were. Or we can, as I believe we should, measure our progress against the best. That, for me, is how we truly become as good as we can be and genuinely globally competitive.”
Outlining how he intends to particularly focus on improving skills, Simon Hamilton said: “Our people are what is most impressive about Northern Ireland. When you speak to inward investors it is immediately obvious that in no small part why they come to Northern Ireland when they could invest their money anywhere is because of the loyalty, the talent and the inherent hard work of our people.
“I am convinced that skills are perhaps the single most important building block for constructing a globally competitive economy.
“That doesn’t mean that drivers like infrastructure or taxation aren’t important. They are. But if we consider corporation tax alone, we will not capitalise on the undoubted benefits it will bring if we don’t have a suitably skilled labour supply to fill the new jobs that a competitive corporation tax rate will bring.
“I firmly believe that skills are an elevator to economic prosperity and social inclusion and I am determined that we build upon the progress we’ve been making and use skills to change lives and transform our economy”.
Minister Hamilton concluded: “A new generation is growing up who have no recollection of the Troubles. They are brilliantly bright. They have a confidence and an awareness of the world around them that I can’t recall amongst my peers. Their grasp of technology is frighteningly good and they aren’t inhibited by the restrictions of the Northern Ireland of the 70s, 80s and early 90s.
“Let the legacy that we work together to achieve be a peaceful society, political stability and also a prosperous and globally competitive economy that provides them with the opportunity to fulfil their dreams in Northern Ireland”.
Notes to editors:
1. A copy of the Minister’s speech can be accessed at DfE Website.
2. For media enquiries, please contact DfE Press Office on 028 9052 9604. Out of office hours, please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.