Isn’t it amazing the effect a little global economic crisis can have on DUP finance ministers? Not so long ago, Peter Robinson was advocating an economic policy for the North apparently based on that he pioneered on Castlereagh council. His big theme, and that of much of our punditocracy, was the need to cut down on the North’s Soviet-style public sector, which takes up 63% of the local economy compared to a British average of 43%.
23 June 2006, Robbo sed:
The Northern Ireland economy also suffers from a number of structural difficulties. As I have said there is no doubt that the Northern Ireland economy is over reliant on the public sector but the real challenge is to try to manage the transition from a public sector dominated economy to a private sector dominated economy in a way which will not crash the economy in the process. This is not an easy task.
The culture that is created by the public sector dominated economy will not be changed overnight. The challenge of changing the nature of the economy is a formidable one when one considers the number of people in Northern Ireland directly and indirectly employed by the public sector.
An overlarge public sector also acts as a disincentive to the private enterprise which is needed to boost the local economy. At times Government is not the solution but is the problem. The role of Government is not to create jobs but to create the environment in which the private sector can create them. Too often Government activity can hurt rather than help the private sector through regulation and taxation.
18 September 2008, Doddsy sez:
However in the face of the ongoing worldwide credit crunch Mr Dodds said the disproportionately large public sector was actually a good thing.
“The extent to which the local economy can degenerate into a recession is minimised by the size and influence of our public sector,” he told members of Stormont’s Finance and Personnel Committee.
This is a bit of a dose of reality, and it may also occur to Doddsy that our private sector, such as it is, is heavily concentrated in retail and thus dependent on the spending of public sector salaries. Not that the Northern economy couldn’t do with a bit of restructuring, especially when it comes to the grantocracy, but it may now be occurring to the DUP that taking a hatchet to public sector employment is no panacea. And it certainly isn’t a short cut to what we need, which is an economy that actually produces stuff.