THE draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy are the executive’s next step forward, building on what was achieved during the first term of devolution. The draft PfG sets new and ambitious targets, with 76 commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.
The document sets out clear priorities within it to rebuild and rebalance our economy, to address the legacy of division that lingers from the past, to reform key public services and to protect the most vulnerable within the community.
The draft PfG and Investment Strategy are not the property or preserve of any party in the assembly, but represent a compromise and combination of the wishes of all. As we face into the challenges to come, I believe that this will be a strength rather than a weakness.
We recognise the importance of working together to achieve a common goal. This has never been more important than in the current financial climate.
Every day, we hear of stories about the debt crisis, financial instability, public sector cut-backs and we hear about the pain that these issues cause for ordinary families. The executive’s job is not to stand back and observe, but to use the powers and resources at our disposal to make a difference.
With many people facing uncertainty in their employment, the top commitment is to support the promotion of over 25,000 new jobs in the local economy. We also reassert our commitment to press for the devolution of Corporation Tax. If devolved, we could then reduce it and make us more competitive with our nearest neighbour – the Republic of Ireland.
Other commitments on the economy include:
l Supporting small businesses with an extension of the Small Business Rates Relief Scheme
l Ensuring that at least 20 per cent of the £300 million investment in R&D will be in SMEs
l Boost tourism, increasing visitor numbers to 3.6m and revenue to £625m by 2013
l The elimination of air passenger duty on all direct long haul flights will also help make Northern Ireland an attractive destination for tourism and investment alike.
Government itself will be reformed, with 11 councils for local government to be in place by 2015, the new Education and Skills Authority operational in 2013 and to agree changes to the structures of the assembly during 2012 and bring forward legislation to implement them.
The PfG also ensures the executive will take action to improve community safety by tackling anti-social behaviour and crime against older and vulnerable people by, amongst other measures, more effective and appropriate sentencing.
Many households will be delighted that all Housing Executive properties will have double-glazing installed over the next four years. This is not only good for our construction industry but should also reduce heating and energy bills.
The draft Programme for Government and the Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland both reflect our commitment to build a better future.
Four years ago we began a new journey and a new era of devolved government. For the first time in a generation we completed a full assembly term. In four years time however, it is not survival but delivery on which we will be judged. That is a measure of how far we have come.