Posted on Saturday 9 April 2011 by Ulster Business
"With most of the mutual suspicions of the past now gone, our politicians should have the space to deal with the everyday issues that governments elsewhere in Western Europe do as routine."Currently the GVA per capita here remains significantly lower than that of the rest of the UK. In 2009 it was £15,800, whereas in England it was £20,400. There is a range of issues contributing to this, all of which the Executive will have to tackle, including low levels of GDP per employed person and high rates of economic inactivity. Slashing taxes to attract foreign companies won't address these fundamental issues which will need dealt with head-on if we are to stand a realistic chance of truly boosting the economy here. Of course, it isn't just economic issues that the new administration will have to grapple with. There are the proverbial elephants in the room, including the school transfer saga, the ongoing challenges within Health and Social Services, not to mention the sad fact that sectarianism is still a scourge. The transfer test, which has been an issue for successive administrations since devolution returned after the Agreement, has yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of all the main parties. It provides a case-in-point of how, although the parties are perhaps working together better than at any time since devolution, there are still underlying issues of deep division that the mandatory nature of our coalition government can only do so much to resolve. While Education Minister Caitríona Ruane did technically follow-through on her party's commitment to abolish the eleven-plus, the state-provided version has been replaced with a raft of private models put in place by those second-level schools which still wish to have academic selection at their disposal. No doubt if one of the unionist parties finds itself with the Education portfolio, we could see further changes to the transfer system. Of course, how permanent those alterations would be is impossible to tell as no consensus between politicians appears to be on the horizon. There are also longer term challenges which the incoming Executive will have to play its part in handling, such as the impact of an ageing society and the effect this has on public services and government expenditure, promoting public health with a view to improving on areas such as obesity and smoking, and dealing with energy issues, particularly with the price of oil continuing to rise and the ever-present problem of energy security lurking in the background. So, we have come through four years of devolved government since the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to enter coalition, and while the public will have afforded them a period of grace to get used to working together, after this election there will be a much higher expectation on the Executive to deliver, whatever the result. Things have changed completely since the last time Northern Ireland went to the polls to choose its MLAs, with the global recession, the crash of the southern economy and a sustained period of stable government here arguably for the first time. These realities should be grasped by the incoming Executive as opportunities to position Northern Ireland as an innovative, appealing and bankable place to invest in. And as a result, jobs, economic growth and community relations will flourish.