Alliance guest John Simpson

At the Alliance Party Conference last weekend, economist John Simpson made a presentation on “Rebuilding the Northern Ireland economy” (see his concluding remarks in embedded video above).

Simpson said that in this regard, what mattered was: (1) productivity and (2) competence. Economic growth in Northern Ireland was not about subsidies or reducing the cost of living, but instead:

  • enhancing our skills programmes
  • re-evaluating our capital budget
  • reflecting on our public services

He pointed out that the Varney II Report says that most its recommendations can be taken by the Northern Ireland Executive itself. To which the Northern Ireland Executive response was to write to HM Treasury and say that Varney II did not address how Northern Ireland would reach economic convergence (with the rest of the UK) — an attempt by the Executive to absolve itself from implementing Varney recommendations.

Simpson said that if he got such a letter from the Executive, he’d reply, “Can you not read?” The Varney II Report says: do it yourselves!

He also said that the Northern Ireland Executive did not address matters of fiscal devolution, i.e. tax-varying powers. Again, this was intentional by Varney, as it want the Executive to use the finance powers it already has.

For Simpson, Varney II is al the more reason why we need to think for ourselves about skills and training, selective business support, planning, infrastructure priorities, public transport services, and urban development and housing.

As Simpson put it, “We need to take the pain to take the gains.”

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