Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Vernon Coaker have committed the next Labour Government to putting an economic revival in Northern Ireland at the top of their agenda.
Writing a joint article together for the Belfast Telegraph as part of the shadow chancellor’s two-day visit to the province, they declare:
“Northern Ireland has been hit harder by the double-dip recession made in Downing Street.”
… and cite the 8% unemployment figure and the fact almost 1 in 4 young people are out of work in Northern Ireland.
Having a stab at the new Tory Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers - who this week used her speech to the Conservative conference to warn “there are still significant issues to overcome” before powers to set corporation tax could be devolved to Stormont, despite widespread, cross party support - Balls and Coaker wrote:
“Before the general election, the Tories raised the prospect of a cut in corporation tax. But after two years of talking about devolving corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland, there is still no agreement about whether it should happen and what it would cost.
“We are clear: whether a corporation tax cut is the best way forward, Northern Ireland’s businesses need help – now.
“Simply changing the Tory face at the NIO isn’t going to get Northern Ireland the help it needs. Northern Ireland’s economy needs support, which is why Labour is calling for a real plan for jobs and growth.”
Interestingly, however, speaking to the Newry Chamber of Commerce, Balls gave an indication Labour were cooling to the idea of devolving powers to set the tax.
He told the audience gathered yesterday:
“It worries me that corporation tax is the only debate happening here. I don’t want you to think we’re dodging the bullet on this one. We’re not. It’s just we shouldn’t be sitting on our hands while we’re having this debate about corporation tax.”
Giving an alternative for an economic boost now, Balls and Coaker went on to argue in their joint article that Labour’s plans to use the proceeds of the sale of the 4G mobile phone spectrum to kick-start the economy would, they argued, “give £70m to Northern Ireland over the next two years”.
A tax break to every small firm that takes on extra workers would, they suggest, help to “grow the small businesses that make up 90% of Northern Ireland’s private sector”. Similarly, they argue that levying a tax on bank bonuses would provide sufficient funding for 2,000 jobs for young people in Northern Ireland.
Invoking the memory of the peace process, they conclude:
“When Labour took office in 1997, we committed to putting the issue of securing peace in Northern Ireland at the top of our agenda.
“And, with our partners in the Irish government and the courage of political leaders in Northern Ireland, we achieved together something that had eluded generations before. We will never be afraid to say how proud we are of that and how strongly we feel about protecting its legacy. Northern Ireland has changed – and changed for the better – since the bad old days of conflict, violence and isolation.
“But we aren’t complacent about the work that still needs to be done. That is why the next Labour government will put securing Northern Ireland’s economic future at the top of our agenda. Because we know the next stage in Northern Ireland’s development will be centred on the economy.
“So we want to support the First and deputy First Minister and the Executive to build and develop the economy, reform our banks, invest in infrastructure and promote innovation and new investment for the future.
“Together let’s build an economy that allows the ambition and potential of Northern Ireland and its people to be realised. That’s our promise of 2012. And that will be the promise of the next Labour government.”