SMEs must be at PfG core for social and economic growth

Wilfred Mitchell
Wilfred Mitchell

Growing the private sector must be the economic priority at the heart of the new Programme for Government business group the FSB has claimed.

In its response to consultation on the new programme, policy chair for Northern Ireland, Wilfred Mitchell OBE, said social and economic progress were interrelated.

“So, by improving the economy, there will be direct improvements in other key areas. Specifically, by supporting our small business sector and helping to create and grow new businesses, the Northern Ireland Executive can help build confidence which will lead to more employment, innovation and exports.

“This will increase prosperity, self-reliance, and well-being, so the Northern Ireland Executive needs to place small businesses firmly at the centre of all of its plans.

Describing the draft programme as “a good start,” Mr Mitchell said its effectiveness woudl rely on robust action and delivery plans for the Departments and agencies.

“It will be in the performance and outputs of these that success will be judged,” he said.

In its response to the draft document, leading union Unite said it must be partnered with a long-term public investment strategy.

Regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said it undermined wider social engagement in the consultation process and threatened to open the door to low-cost, corner-cutting approaches to delivery, such as outsourcing and privatisation.

He said there was a lack of proposals surrounding manufacturing and no target for research and development, productivity or the proportion of workers being paid a living wage.

“At a time when Northern Ireland faces the challenges associated with Brexit and our economic output in real terms remains smaller than it was eight years ago - such absences are both inexplicable and inexcusable.”

Mr Kelly added: “The principles of equality, a rights-based approach and a commitment to adequately funded public services must be included as cross-cutting priorities.”